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Getting Others to Go Along: The Soft Skills of Influence and Building Alignment

Increasingly, leaders find they can’t rely on merely telling people what to do; instead, they must help their people to see things in the light that leadership does, and to understand why they should make choices consistent with the strategy.

Why the focus on influencing others and building alignment? Leaders are not leading if no one is following, so what should leaders do to accomplish that? “’Leadership’ is wanting to do something new and better, and getting others to go along,” said Edgar Schein, co-author (with Peter Schein) of Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness, and Trust. We typically frame one’s leadership style as choosing between an authoritarian one and a more consensus-based approach. But that's not the real choice. When leaders face situations where alignment is lacking, the true question is whether to rely on the power and authority of their role to get others to follow even when they don't agree—or to endeavor to change others’ views in some way.

People’s beliefs and assumptions drive their interpretation of facts and situations and, consequently, their behavior. Influence is about changing how others think; alignment is about bringing individuals together around some shared perspective or plan. If we are to “do better,” the real challenge of leadership is how to build that alignment around something other than the “lowest common denominator.”

This the fourth in a series of five Medium articles by Danny, part of our “Soft Skills, Adaptive Leaders” learning journey for learning and leadership development.

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