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The Leadership Playbook: Leaders Use Persuasion Not Force

Leaders have to be great salespeople to lead effectively. The reason? Because true leadership is based on persuasion and not force (with one exception we’ll get to later).

Leadership isn’t a position on an organizational chart. An org chart contains titles, and despite what you might believe, titles aren’t always an indication as to whether or not someone is a leader. The real way to discern who is a leader is to measure their followers. You see, someone may have the title without the followers, and another someone may have the followers without the title.

You don’t create followers with formal, structural, organizational chart authority. That “power” only creates subordinates, employees, and direct reports. You create followers with persuasion, with influence.

Persuasion and influence are more powerful forces than formal authority. Formal authority might allow you to tell someone what to do, but it does nothing to make them want to do it, and more often it has the opposite effect (especially in the most important things).

When you forego formal authority, you are forced to sell people on your vision, your mission, your values, and why you are different.

  • You have to sell people on why your vision is necessary and how those who follow you are going to be transformed.
  • You have to persuade people to adopt your mission as their own mission, knowing that until it becomes their mission, it isn’t going to be powerful enough to produce the outcomes.
  • As a leader, you have to sell your values. What you value is the foundation of the culture you build. You have to sell those beliefs, persuading others to adopt them as their own.
  • It’s difficult for people to believe you are different and follow your lead unless you persuade them that you are different and that it makes a difference.

You can’t force people to become followers.

But there is a major exception to influence, one where force is required: When people refuse to adopt your values and threaten your culture. There isn’t anyway to negotiate around your values and your culture, and allowing people to threaten your culture puts your vision, mission, and differences at risk. Not all values are equal, and you might need to use force to defend your culture.

Drucker is credited as saying culture eats strategy for breakfast. Persuasion eats force for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.


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