Leverage is the tool struggling managers get clumsy with at best and are unaware of at worst. Simply put, they are awkward when it comes to using leverage to influence the outcomes they seek. Archimedes said he could lift with the world with a long enough lever. I believe it! Power, as a leader, comes from using leverage in the workplace. Wisdom is present when you can utilize that power while others lack awareness of its presence. Let that thought soak in a moment.
There are three simple power levers to get others to do what you want. Using these levers gives you an extreme advantage with people during what others may consider organic “normal” interactions. Yes, with power comes responsibility. These power levers can be (and are being) utilized for unethical behavior. I am optimistic that you will use these levers for excellent and necessary work as the leader in your circles of influence.
The first power lever is fear. The instinct of fear has kept humans alive for generations. Survival is in our DNA. I teach sales professionals to seek out the source of anxiety during the discovery portion of the buying journey. Find out what they are afraid of, and you have leverage as the seller. The same applies to leadership. Ask calibrated questions (what and how) to provide the source of what your subordinate fears. It can be fear of loss, fear of missing out, or fear of failing, to name a few.
Once you determine what someone fears, it becomes the lever in your hand as a leader. Sometimes it is as simple as asking what they are afraid of and listening for the response. If it is below the surface, you may need to probe a little deeper to discover what someone is scared of in a situation. You need your operations manager (Mary) to buy into your decision for change. As you probe deeper, you discover she is afraid to reveal she does not understand your reason for the shift in strategy. The fear is masked by a “dirty yes” to accommodate your changes with no real commitment to making the change happen. Sound familiar?
Once you discover the source of fear, you can use it to create power. You can ease Mary’s anxiety by making the change seem more complicated. You can say the reason for the change also seemed complicated to you at first. You also struggled in the beginning. Mary can relate to you because you both shared the same struggle. Reframing fear is powerful. Instead of diverging, you are converging in Mary’s mind.
Fear is used by powerful politicians constantly. Stoking fear is an accelerant to get what you want. Make people afraid, and they will take action. Be aware of the lever, and you gain awareness amongst the masses.
The second power lever is greed. Our instinctual need to find and gather food has been replaced by seeking money. Having money allows people to worry about other things, such as choosing what clothes to wear. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Once we satisfy one condition, we seek another. Gordon Gecko said greed is good in the movie Wall Street. I say greed is natural, and we are all greedy to some degree.
As a leader, you can use greed as a lever to get what you desire. Commissions, bonuses, and higher salaries are all power levers used by people to get others to take action. Humans trade work for money. You can also use greed to buy commitment to something you deem as necessary. You hear the term “buying influence” all the time. Buying influence is based on the greed instinct. People convince themselves to think a certain way if they get money as a result. History has seen democracies corrupted by people voting out of greed rather than logic.
You need your boss to support your change initiative at work financially. Simply asking for the money may not work. However, if you can demonstrate a financial advantage for her, you have the power of leverage. This tactic is called a return on investment (ROI) analysis. Another rarely used lever is the cost of waiting for (COW) analysis. Let’s imagine you need her (the boss) to invest one million dollars in your project. If you can show her that she is losing money by not investing, you have applied the greed lever.
In sales, the greed lever is applied skillfully to unsuspecting buyers. People do not buy luxury because of need. We get easily manipulated to trade money for overpriced goods based on our greed instinct. Strategic marketing and a clever salesperson convince us that the product is worth more than the actual utility it provides.
The final lever is reputation. Remember that pesky fellow, Maslow? We all need to self-actualize or, in simpler terms, reach our potential. The only way to know our human potential is by comparing ourselves to others in our minds. Our reputation manifests human comparison to one another. If there is only one human, there is no reputation. Asian culture calls this saving face.
Give someone a higher reputation, and you gain leverage. Call someone an intelligent person, and they will desire to live up to that reputation. Tell someone they are attractive, and they will attempt to look more beautiful. We all want to reach our potential. Skilled leaders (and sales professionals) use this lever by making others believe they are the source of a good idea. Using questions, an experienced person can guide others to a new reality and credit them for doing so.
Teddy (the buyer) gets asked a series of open-ended questions until he provides an answer that Ann (the seller) is searching for to sell her service. Ann labels that particular answer as brilliant. She carefully applies the lever of reputation to make Teddy feel smart. While doing so, she strategically places her service as the natural next step for Teddy’s brilliance. He does not desire to lose the brilliance reputation by contradicting his idea.
Fear, greed, and reputation are potent levers that impact all of us as humans. Throughout history, humans have experienced these levers. As a result, we developed intuition to protect us from the application of them in our lives. Clumsy application of the lever is spotted instinctually. At an early age, children outgrow the efficacy of reverse psychology. Logic and rational thinking have developed to counteract the emotional impact of this leverage.
The challenge and opportunity for leaders are remaining genuine while applying the power of these levers. Modern society would crumble if these instincts did not exist, yet they get used for a harmful purpose. The counter-intuitive nature of human psychology is a reality. Simply pretending they do not exist is irrational because we all use them to some degree our entire lives. Simply put, you have more power than you realize. If your motives are genuine, these three levers are powerful to get what you want. Your leadership and sales team can be more influential in your communities by careful and deliberate application. Warning label: Use with extreme caution.