Rethinking Power and Influence with Rich Cox

Think about a recent situation where you had to influence another person or group.

Huimin Hurry, 25.08.2014

It could be in a leadership position, a business negotiation, a sales consultation, a stakeholder meeting, or even as a parent. How did you exercise your influence, and were you able to achieve the desired outcomes?

If you hold authority from a formal rank or position in an organization, it would have given you some influencing power. However, in most situations, we do not have that legitimate power over the person whom we are dealing with. Even when we do, many find that it is no longer enough to rely on positional power because the demands of interactions are now different than before. Our business contacts are better informed, have access to resources, are well-connected, have more choices, and come from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Rich Cox, who lectures at Stanford Graduate School of Business and coaches executive teams on leadership and communication, answers our questions on Power and Influence.

Is it recommended to have more power, rather than less?

Contrary to the belief that more power is better, Cox reveals that the word ‘power’ itself often triggers a negative reaction as it is typically associated with organizational hierarchy and authoritative dominance. Instead, power is essentially about whether you can influence, control and lead a situation, people or a set of resources. You can have power and command respect in various ways – where positional power is the authority received through being appointed; personal power is the authority commanded through your expertise, likeability and how you show up as a person.

The best way to gain influence and build trust is to combine the traits of personal power with positional power, warmth with strength, and to be able to recognize what the situation requires. The most effective leaders are fluid in using the full range of their power capacity in adapting to the situations.

How to be fluid in using that range of influencing power?

Preparation is crucial, but what is the right kind of preparation? “Before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you. Many people prepare for influencing others by researching and rehearsing what to say, instead of focusing on the state of mind and attitude to adopt”, says Cox.

Before entering the situation, know what is the kind of power required for that communication and choose how you need to show up in order to accomplish your communication goals. You may even choose to lower your status in some situations to connect warmly with your audience and get them to open up, doing so in a way that fosters trust and respect.

“To be able to adapt fluidly to what the situation calls for, you need to stretch your range of expressing power until you get comfortable having and holding the range that you need. It is not about being inauthentic. Everybody has a range, it is about stretching that range to ways you haven’t before, thereby increasing your capacity to influence others in different contexts.”

In essence, what has been a key takeaway for the participants of your trainings?

“Interestingly, there are a lot of people who come [to the trainings] and they are not that comfortable with having more power, but they are very curious about it. There are definitely people who come with the objective of learning how to use, and gain, more power. At the end of the day, they realize that it is a tool for how they show up and connect with people. Command and control do not work as they used to anymore. In this modern world, it is about empowerment and the ability to lead, motivate and influence others to action. They realized that how they show up today is great, and it may not be how they need to show up tomorrow to keep growing.”

Rich Cox is a Lecture at Stanford Graduate School of Business and an international consultant, specialized in leadership, communication and innovation.

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