As an executive coach working with CXO-level coachees, I am often asked the question, ‘How can I build a better working relationship with XYZ, especially when I have no authority over them?’. The challenge of building relationships is highest when it comes to engaging with peers and bosses. Your subordinates are easiest to manage since they are under your control. But if a coachee identifies an area for development and if that calls for him or her to build a better relationship with someone who is in a different vertical or division, how do they start?

A veteran Executive coach introduced me to the book Influence Without Authority by Allan Cohen and David Bradford. The book presented some interesting ways of exercising influence even when you have no authority over a person. It starts with your understanding of the other person’s situation, and not just your own need. When you are able to figure out what the other person values, you will be able to develop a way of building empathy and may be influence that person’s decisions.

I am already a convert to the fine art of exercising positive influence. So when I was offered a chance to review the book Positive Influence – The First and Last mile of Leadership, I took on the task with alacrity. The author, Tsun-Yan Hsieh, is a veteran management consultant who had a stellar track record in McKinsey; his co-author, Huijin Kong, is also a McKinsey alumnus. Tsun-Yin has served on the boards of respected companies such as Singapore Airlines, Sony, Dyson and Bharti Airtel. He has taught subjects related to leadership influence at NUS Singapore. In 2010 he founded the LinHart group specialising in leadership development; Huijn works with Tsun-Yin at LinHart Group. The authors have rich experience in working with hundreds of leaders across all the major geographies. And, as a welcome relief, they have worked extensively with companies in South Asia, South East Asia and China.

Influence vs persuasion

What is influence? Is it the same as persuasion? The authors clarify that they are not the same: “Influence is an attempt to mobilise oneself and others to positively impact an interaction, a task, a relationship, a group of people, or a community without the use of raw power [such as coercion] or authority, to produce good outcomes beneficial to all stakeholders”. They define +influence as a pathway that benefits ourselves and others simultaneously. The intent behind the attempt differentiates positive influence from all other influences, including coercion and manipulation.

The book covers the topic of positive influence through three sections. In the first section we look at ‘Fundamentals of Influence’. How it depends on the context of interactions, what makes good +influence, how we can all get better at +influence and influencing against all odds. The first section also introduces us to a self-test to measure the extent of our own skills at +influencing. The test is simple but makes an interesting point on how to self-test out ability to exert +influencing skills.

The second section of the book looks at how to transform our +influencing effectiveness. We are introduced to the basics of +influence: need to be deliberate, understanding the context, setting +influence objectives, draw insights, seize the moments, pace and engaging our whole being. This section also has a chapter on +influencing through the written word; an areas that is often ignored. How to craft a mail, when to send a mail, when to reply to a mail; the chapter shares many practical tips.

The third section is about becoming a better self through +influence. How by using +influence we can go on a self-development journey. How to use others in this journey and how to transition from +influence into leadership. The authors repeatedly point out that +influence is not just meant for the board rooms but is equally applicable to the shop floor as well.

Candid stories

The book is filled with personal anecdotes and stories from the lives of Tsun-Yan and Huijin. The authors share some very candid tales of how they failed to use +influence and how they learnt from their mistakes. In addition to the personal tales, there are numerous short cases that present a variety of challenging situations. The authors clarify that +influence is not meant for just the CXO-level executives, and they bring it alive by presenting scenarios where the protagonist in a tricky situation is a youngster, who has no authority over his boss or his super boss.

Many of us lament that ‘no one is listening to me’ ‘my ideas get rejected’ ‘ what can I do different to be heard’. The book Positive Influence holds a mirror to you and makes you take a deep breath to figure out what you can do to become more effective in your domain, be it as a junior executive, a Director or an entrepreneur. +Influence may be the magic potion.

The reviewer is a best selling author of 11 books. His latest ‘All The World’s A Stage’ is a personal branding story

Check out the book on Amazon

Positive Influence: The First and Last Mile of Leadership
By Tsun-Han Hsieh & Huijin Kong
Published by: World Scientific Pages 360 Price: Rs 995