Are Great Leaders Persuadable?

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Are the hallmarks of great leaders confidence, certainty and decisiveness?

Or as our world grows ever more volatile and complex, are the best leaders open to influence? Are they persuadable?

That’s the premise of a great new book by Al Pittampalli called Persuadable: How Great Leaders Change Their Minds to Change the World.

How did I find it? By reading one of my favorite marketing blogs. Seth Godin had a great plug for it last week in his post “When I want your opinion…”. And if Seth is recommending a book, it’s going to be good.

With only slight sheepishness at being a marketer’s dream by buying the Kindle edition of the book after reading the post, I dove into it this week.

What did I learn? In a nutshell, I’m going to be much more comfortable evaluating new data and information as it comes to light. And I’ll be more willing to change my mind as a result.

Some of it harkens back to the classic principles in Robert Cialdini‘s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. The reciprocity principle in particular has stood the test of time as a key driver of social media.

John Maxwell‘s writings about Becoming a Person of Influence also made an impression. Maxwell says you have to be open to the influence of others, in order to have an influence on them. I’m still tickled that he was one of the first people who “followed” me back on Twitter.

Why is persuadability to important? “In a world that is unpredictable, ultra competitive and fast changing,” Pittampalli writes, “being persuadable is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

This gives key advantages, he explains — accuracy, agility and growth:

  • A better understanding of the world fuels more accurate decisions.
  • Quickly seeing and responding to changing conditions enables necessary pivots.
  • And honestly evaluating your performance and getting feedback creates growth.

How do you become persuadable? Pittampalli outlines 7 practices of persuadable leaders. Here are 3 that most resonated with me.

First is “considering the opposite.” It seems straightforward, yet we have to overcome our own cognitive biases to actively seek out information that conflicts with our current thinking.

A simple way to counter it is by asking yourself questions, starting with “what’s the opposite here and have I thought about it?”

Second is “update your beliefs incrementally.” What works in leading change in general also applies to being more persuadable.

As more evidence becomes available, we can update our beliefs along the way. That way, beliefs evolve naturally over time. It’s easier for your own brain as well as for others to embrace smaller changes in thinking.

Third is “avoiding becoming too persuadable.” Just because you choose to become more persuadable as a leader, there are still plenty of times when it’s appropriate to make decisions that may be unpopular and take action.

Like many things in life and leadership, there are tradeoffs to be made. It’s valuable to get input up to a point, but then there are diminishing returns over time of each additional piece of feedback.

Perhaps you’re embracing on a course of action and finding it difficult to decide whether or not to proceed. A good question Pittampalli puts forth is asking yourself, “Is it worth it?”

My experience in business reinforces for me that it’s more important than ever to be open to new evidence. The world is constantly changing, and information used previously to make decisions is likely to have changed.

By extension, it’s important to become ever more comfortable with changing you mind. Along with that, it’s critical to clearly articulate the reasons behind the changes in your thought process.

As Simon Sinek so compellingly outlined in his TED talk How great leaders inspire action, understanding “why” is the first thing people need to know in order to change the world.

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Caroline Leach

Hi, I'm Caroline Leach. I help people and organizations tell their stories. I'm a Marketing VP at AT&T, a former Communications VP at DIRECTV and an alum of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. This blog, Social Media Savvy for Corporate Professionals, shows you how to build your personal brand, advance your career and embrace your future. It helps you promote your employer and your network too. Opinions expressed in this blog are my own. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. I'd love to hear from you!

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