Saturday, October 8, 2011

Book Review: Influencer

"But I told them!"

Many of my coaching conversations with leaders and managers eventually give rise to those words. The frustrated leader is confused as to why the team is acting as they always have despite a conversation or two about doing things differently.

Just about all of us have been a part of a good idea that is never really implemented - it might be talked about, maybe a few goals are set, and perhaps the group even takes action...and yet it soon fizzles out and things return to the way they were.

This weeks' book review subject, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything by Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzler, tackles this challenge head on - and it does so on a massive scale.

Before getting to Influencer's content, I'll begin by saying what this book is not. It is not an easy or schmaltzy self-help, "think positive", or manipulate-your-way-to-success, type of book. The title makes some big claims (the power to change anything) and so can easily be misunderstood. In reality, the authors are out to help the reader learn how to influence large-scale organizational behavior. For example, one of the most powerful examples used throughout the book involves fighting a parasite in an African village. The principles discussed in Influencer are not quick-fix approaches. They require significant effort for those leaders and teams who really want to make meaningful changes.

Through a combination of research in psychology and organizational theory, as well as their previous work in Crucial Conversations, the authors present a theory of influence that goes something like this:

Change requires both motivation and ability. (Or will and skill). Both motivation and ability each have three centers: personal, social, and structural. That's a total of six different categories of influence (personal-motivation, personal-ability, social-motivation, social-ability, structural-motivation, structural-ability).

The bottom-line of Influencer is that if you want to maximize your chance for successful change, you will use at least four of these influence categories...and all six if you can. The concepts explained in Influencer are very powerful, but they require real effort and thought. You will not find quick fixes in the effort to create lasting and meaningful change.

If I have any criticism of Influencer, it is that the book could use better editing. It does drag in sections. The material can be incredibly powerful and deserves to be presented in a more focused style. If you are able to find it, the authors published a summarized version of their findings in the MIT Sloan Management Review. Once you've read the book, that article serves as a good summary tool.

In closing, I point you to a youtube video that demonstrates the power of the Influencer concepts in an easily understandable demonstration involving kids, cupcakes, and dirty hands. I should also note that the authors have released another book packaging this material for use by individuals seeking to use the six categories to influence their own individual behavior.

Happy Reading!

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Twitter: @davidmdye
David shares twenty years experience teaching, coaching, leading, and managing in youth service, education advocacy, city governance, and faith-based nonprofits. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer for Colorado UpLift and enjoys helping others discover and realize their own potential.

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