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Constructive influence: The key to true leadership [Blog]

constructive-influenceInfluence is described in the dictionary as “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself”. The ways in which people exert influence, however, can be either constructive (positive) or coercive (negative). Coercive influence results from forceful approaches that are experienced negatively by others. In contrast, constructive influence leverages inspiring or motivational approaches that are positively experienced by others. In today’s rapidly evolving world of work, the ability to wield constructive influence over others is arguably the primary factor that distinguishes managers as true leaders.

Continual advances in technology and globalisation have prompted organisations to shift away from traditional reporting hierarchies, to more flexible and collaborative models of working (often remotely). As a result, organisations today are more commonly characterised by flatter structures, matrixed, or team-based arrangements. To meet the demands of an increasingly complex business environment, knowledge workers – more specialised individuals who work with, and analyse, information – have also become far more prevalent. This has changed the profile of the workforce to one that is more discerning, mobile, and has higher expectations of how they contribute and are valued in an organisation. Given these evolving trends in the world of work, traditionally authoritarian management approaches are becoming less effective in driving outcomes, and are often even counter-productive for the retention of key talent. In a generation that values collaboration, innovation and flexibility, it is instead becoming imperative that managers be able to influence, rather than command, others.

Of course many managers get results through coercive influence – we have all encountered the intimidating manager who is called in to ‘fix teams’ and ‘get things done’, but does so by provoking fear, stress and anxiety in staff. These managers generally argue (and firmly believe) that, if they get results and have a high performing team, then they are effective leaders. However, aside from the negative personal impact on staff, a focus on results irrespective of process misses one critical aspect – that of sustainability. Coercive influence gets results in the short-term because people are motivated to avoid a negative outcome – in effect, the manager becomes the external motivation for people to change their behaviour and achieve a goal. In the absence of that manager, however, the external motivation to change and achieve outcomes is removed and the original behaviours can quickly reassert themselves. In contrast, true leaders achieve lasting results and create a legacy that continues once they have moved on. They do so by leveraging constructive influence to positively shift mindsets so that people develop the internal motivation and commitment necessary to sustain changes in their behaviour. So it is constructive influence that really distinguishes true leadership. Why? Because the pursuit of lasting organisational success requires a sustained collective effort, irrespective of shifts in the organisation and its leadership. It is constructive influence which creates enduring internal motivation when the external environment offers none.


Bob Woodcock, renowned leadership development expert, describes influence as “a combination of credibility and the capability of connecting with others in a way that is meaningful, comfortable and effective for them”. Constructive influence goes one step further by aligning desired organisational outcomes with a genuine focus on the best interests of others. People trust a leader who makes them feel safe, supported and valued. To wield constructive influence, leaders need to create an emotional connection with their people and build authentic, trusting relationships.

5 principles of constructive influence

Emotional Engagement

Leaders should be approachable and proactively express a genuine interest in others. Demonstrating the willingness to share at a personal level encourages others, through reciprocity, to connect emotionally by also sharing more of themselves. Of course there are professional boundaries to be maintained, however, by creating emotionally connected relationships, leaders are able to build trust and a sense of safety.


People are more inclined to trust others and connect emotionally when they feel valued. By involving people in finding solutions or providing ideas, leaders send a powerful message that they value the input of their people.

Creation of Meaning

People who find meaning in their work are the most fulfilled, persistent and productive. True leaders seek to understand what drives their people, what they believe in and value – they notice where others focus their energy and what sparks their enthusiasm. By asking questions and really listening to what others have to say, leaders find ways to connect their vision to the passions and values of their people. By making their work meaningful, leaders build internally driven commitment and motivation in others.

Ethical Purpose

Leaders who are ethical and behave in the best interests of their staff while still pursuing organisational outcomes are particularly effective at gaining commitment because they convey the message that their focus is on the greater good, not only on outcomes. People are not inclined to trust or follow leaders who they perceive as “in it for themselves”.


True leaders come from a place of understanding and believing in the vision they are driving. Without arrogance, they provide the assurance that they have the knowledge, strength, and ability to guide people in the right direction.

To learn more about how leaders can develop their constructive influence, contact TMS Consulting through or (07) 3003 1473.


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TMS Consulting