INFLUENCE & A Review of “Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change”

Reviewed by Rev. Jeff Lawson, Aurora, IN, candidate for Missional Coach, 2016.  Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, Second Edition, Joseph Grenny – McGraw-Hill – 2013

The authors use at least a dozen different ‘Influencers” to make their point. They readily argue that just about anything (aside from gravity) can be changed if handled correctly. In fact, they state early on that, “Success relies on the capacity to systematically create rapid, profound, and sustainable changes in a handful of key behaviors.” The book is divided into the philosophy that there are six sources, or key behaviors of influence: Personal Motivation, Personal Ability, Social Motivation, Social Ability, Structural Motivation, and Structural Ability.

The goal for Personal Motivation is to help people to love what they hate. There are four tactics that should be utilized in order to do that. 1) Allow for choice 2) Create direct experiences 3) Tell meaningful stories and 4) Make it a game. I was moved by the idea that “almost any activity can be made engaging if it involves reasonably challenging goals and clear, frequent feedback.” The truth is that no one enjoys cleaning bathrooms, but when there is a story behind the cleanliness and how it might have saved a customer or made a client feel more comfortable, it changes the dynamics of the necessary chore.

As the discussion moved to Personal Ability the goal is now to help people to do what they can’t. The authors state, “When leaders and training designers combine too much motivation with too few opportunities to improve ability, they rarely produce change.” It is important that those people that we lead have the opportunity to put their skills to work. If not, how will they ever improve. Also, if we fail to give them the opportunities, there is a decent chance that someone else will and we could lose valuable people. The author states that, “Influencers carefully invest in strategies to help to increase ability.” Influencers know that people are their greatest commodity.

The idea behind Social Motivation is to provide encouragement. The authors say, “To harness the immense power of social support, sometimes all you need to do is to find the one respected individual who flies in the face of what everyone else has done and model the new and healthier vital behaviors.” People are copycats, plain and simple. This happens in just about every area of life. When do we start putting up Christmas Lights? The day after the neighbor does. When do the farmers start planting seed in the ground? The day after the neighbor first rev’s up his John Deere tractor. We are motivated by what we see and we are greatly influenced by what we see works well.

When it comes to Social Ability, the goal is to provide assistance. The driving force here is to come alongside each other and spur one another on. The authors say, “groups made up of people at all intellectual levels often perform better than any one individual.” Most folks would agree with this statement, yet there are millions of ‘lone rangers’ out there that insist on going the road on their own and never soliciting advice from others. Through multiple sources we see in this chapter that other people can motivate us in profound and countless ways.

The chapter that covers Structural Motivation challenges the reader to change their economy. This chapter truly pushed me and my earlier convictions on the subject. They write, “Your goal with structural motivation and using incentives should not be to overwhelm people to change. Rather, it should be primarily to remove disincentives.” They would advocate that rewards should not be the first and only tool in your work belt. Not that you never reward with incentives, but they should be used a lot more sparingly than they typically are. On page 219 they used a tremendous illustration about rewards in a daycare system with rewards and the outcome was shocking. Youngsters gave up playing with their favorite toys when they did not see the reward in it. Extremely interesting!

The last of the key behaviors was Structural Ability and we learned that the key was to change their space. “Information affects behavior. People make choices based on cognitive maps that explain which behavior leads to which outcomes.” We tend to react more to what we see and most folks do not dig to find more details. The mainstream media truly guides our thoughts and beliefs and many never challenge that. An Influencer will use that fact to alter the edge in their favor.

Again, there was a lot of helpful information in this book. I would admit though that it was not a ‘fun’ read. There was just a lot of data and stories work through. Also, throughout the book were small stories inserted called, “Act Like An Influencer” with a short story. They were all very interesting, but misplaced in my opinion. The reader was forced to choose between stopping his train of thought in the chapter to read the story or to come back at the end of the chapter and read them individually, which is what I ended up doing.

I think it is a worthwhile read for most people in leadership. Again, my opinion would be to read it without trying to read a second or third book at the same time. It deserves and demands your full attention.