Expert advice on Business Leadership and tips on becoming a more effective Leader.

Leadership Lesson: The Substance of Influence By Bob Burg and John David Mann

You’ve probably heard those talks, the ones where the speaker gets everyone all worked up to a fever pitch with an emotional story, and then rallies them like drunken sports fans around the corporate mission.

It’s a bit like a political stump speech. The idea, of course, is that the people in the audience will be inspired to greater and more productive action.

You’ve been in that audience. You’ve heard that speech. Heck, maybe you’ve given that speech. (We know we have.) How well did it work? How long did its effects last?

There’s got to be a better way.

And there is: harnessing the substance of influence.

If you want to influence people, what is it you’re actually trying to create? In other words, what is influence? What is it made of? Or let’s ask it this way: what is the difference between convincing others to do something, and influencing them to do so?

Convince means “to overcome by argument.” It comes from the Latin word for “conquer.”

Dale Carnegie famously said, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” And is there really any other way to be convinced—conquered, overcome by argument—than against your will?

The word “influence” means “an unseen flow of power.” It was first used in the Middle Ages as an astrological term, from an old French word meaning “a streaming ethereal power from the stars acting upon our character or destiny.” By the fifteenth century, the word was being used to mean “an exercise of personal power by human beings.”

You could say, it describes how we exert gravitational force on each other. Like stars.

Influence is a flow, like air flow or the flow of a river. (Flow, flue, influence — they all come from the same root word.) So what creates that flow?

When water pours downstream, is there some force pushing it from above? No, it flows downstream because of the pull of gravity.

Imagine you have an ordinary window fan blowing air into your room. How far can it blow? Not very far at all. But reverse the fan’s position so it’s now blowing outward—and you can pull a column of air from a single open window clear on the other side of the house, from even hundreds of yards away.

Or think of it this way: How far can you push a rope?

That rah-rah speech given to rally the troops around the flag? That’s like blowing a column of air into a room. Yes, you’ll stir the air and create some movement. But how far does it go? And how long does its influence last?

Instead, turn the window fan around. That’s what great leaders do. They don’t seek to convince; instead, they utilize the substance of influence.

They listen more than talk. Rather than exhorting others to do those actions the organization most needs to move ahead, they personally do those actions themselves. They don’t push the troops toward a goal — they magnetically, gravitationally draw us toward that goal.

That’s what influence is made of. That’s what gravity does. That’s what stars do—they pull. That’s why we don’t talk about how much push we might have with someone, but rather, how much pull.

Pull is the substance of influence. Not push.
Bob Burg and John David Mann are coauthors of the new release It’s Not About You. You can download two sample chapters at