The Art and Science of Positive Influence in Leadership

August 28, 2023 Book Reviews, Business and Management no comments

What does it truly mean to be an ‘influencer’ at work or at play? Are there steps you can take to improve your influence?

Contrary to popular belief, positive influence isn’t about the number of Instagram followers or LinkedIn connections that you have. Rather, it is about how you can impact an interaction, relationship, task or community to produce a positive outcome for all.

So no, you don’t have to be a TikTok content creator to be influential — although that could be your channel of influence!

Thanks to the book Positive Influence — The First and Last Mile of Leadership by Hsieh Tsun-Yan and Kong Huijin, we now have a guide to improving our own personal influence. (Tsun-Yan was also the author of New York Times Bestseller Heart, Smarts, Guts and Luck.)

In this article, I will attempt to influence you (hopefully in a positive manner) with a summary of the salient lessons from the book.

What is Influence?

In the first section of the book, we learn the importance of influence as a tool to producing desired outcomes. This is seen in the definition of positive influence (+Influence):

+Influence is an attempt to mobilise oneself and others to positively impact an interaction, a task, a relationship, a group of people, or a community without the use of raw power (such as coercion) or authority, to produce good outcomes beneficial to all stakeholders.

From this perspective, we can see that we should exercise influence for the good of all parties involved. +Influence should also affect our conative, ie our proclivity to process emotional and rational stimuli in a particular way that results in actions that move in a preferred and often intuitive direction.

What Makes a Good Influence

According to the authors, positive attempts at influence should result in positive outcomes. These include:

  • Productivity: more performance for the same effort/inputs
  • Satisfaction: people enjoying what they do, with accompanying joy and positive self-worth
  • Growth: business growth, personal development, or improvement in a system’s capacity

Take the Influence Test

To evaluate how good you are at influencing others, consider how many “yes”es you can achieve in these situations:

  1. Classify desired outcomes of a situation into must-haves, should-haves, and nice-to-haves
  2. Create a less stressful setting to meet a counterpart so that you can directly read and interpret them later in the “arena”
  3. Frame outcomes in a win-win situation for all parties
  4. Gather data at the venue: first impressions; body language, tone, sincerity of initial behaviours, and strength of personal connection
  5. Work up at least two different pathways to achieve desired outcomes
  6. Meditate for a few minutes upon arrival on how you’d like your whole person to show up
  7. Be able to get “on the balcony” during the meeting to see, sense and perceive the dyanmics and adapt accordingly
  8. Observe key people’s behaviours but refrain from judging them with finality
  9. Form judgements based on earlier evidence, updated with immediate in-meeting behaviours and ask “Even if this were true, what else can be true?”
  10. Add positive energy to the room, even when the going is tough

In the book, you will also learn about the many different influence situations faced by both senior and young professionals/executives.

Hurdles to Positive Influence Attempts

Like it or loathe it, we constantly make mistakes when trying to influence others. Common challenges include:

  • Doubts: These may cause us to give up too early
  • Self-talk: Negative self-talk can derail influence attempts
  • Low self awareness or unawareness
  • Ill-preparedness: Lack of knowing the context and pressures of the different entities involved
  • Instinct-led execution: Going with our gut when we’re not fully cognisant of key issues

To improve our influence ability, we should harness our whole being. This means looking at the multiple inner qualities and energies that exist independently in us.

The 8 Principles of Positive Influence

To improve your influencing ability, you need to consider these 8 principles that affect all +influence situations.

#1 Be Deliberate

Are you conscious and intentional in influencing others? Consider the plan-do-adjust (PDA) process within the first few minutes of an important meeting:

  • Plan: Understand the context, pressure points and timely judgements needed for success. Acquire the right data and consider the key influencees, how they respond and alternative strategies to achieve the same or different outcomes
  • Do: Carry out the influence attempt while noticing the reaactions and feedback from the other party. This covers both verbal and non-verbal responses.
  • Adjust: Make real-time adjustments and repeated tries to modify your approach accordingly.

#2 Consider Context, Pressure Points, and Judgement

Let’s look at each of these components briefly:

Context refers to the important forces at work in the situation, and covers the organisation itself, dynamics, key stakeholders, and key leaders involved.

Pressure points refer to factors like both the business and personal dimensions of an interaction. You’ll need both head and heart to gain insights on this.

Judgement refers to our capacity to consistently make good decisions in complex or uncertain situations. This may include business or technical judgements and leadership judgements that are analytically sharp, relationally sound, and contextually pertinent.

#3 Set Task and Relationship Objectives for Influence

Ask yourself “What do I want the influencee to think, feel and do while the task gets done while improving my relationship with him or her?”

All three should be aligned in a positive manner in your influence attempt.

#4 Seek the Right Insight and Inquiry

Insight is the ability to apprehend the true nature of a thing. It delves into the underlying truth which helps us understand relationships, sources of emotional difficulty, and motivational forces behind actions, thoughts and behaviours.

Inquiry is the act of asking the right questions while suspending one’s own assumptions and judgement.

#5 Time the Moments Correctly

This varies depending on whether the situations are complex or simple. Skilled influences have to decide in which moments they are best equipped to have influence, or how different parts of the influence attempt takes advantage of different moments.

#6 Pace Your Influence Attempts

To find the right pace, you need to align your internal sense of timing to what the situation calls for to have good outcomes.

Be aware of your native bias, and focus on the issues to address or avoid in an attempt before you sequence and plan the attempt.

#7 Seize the Moments When They Come

To produce effective influence outcomes, you need to act during “defining moments” — these are periods when the critical ingredients for success are present for a particular target outcome. They coudl be seconds, minutes, days, or years.

#8 Engage Your Being

To be an effective influencer, you have to bring your entire being to the interaction. This entails influencing how we ourselves think and feel so that we can do the right things in the right way at the right time.

Develop These Influence Habits

Wish to become more proficient in influencing others? Consider these 5 habits:

  1. Care about Others: Think about how you can raise the productivity, growth, and satisfaction of the other party
  2. Stretch Yourself: Go beyond your comfort zone so that you can unearth your inner you, along with approaches new to you
  3. Be Present: Take note of what’s going on in yourself and others during each influence attempt
  4. Get Feedback: Ask for specific input on how you did vis-a-vis your goals whenever you can
  5. Reflect (After Action): Reflect periodically to improve your influence attempts and update your assumptions and beliefs

For details of how you can develop each habit, do read the book!

Bringing Your Being to Each Influence Attempt

To avoid encountering a disconnect in what you say, feel and do, you need to align your entire being each time you wish to influence others.

There are four aspects here:

  1. Personal Qualities: Basic human qualities like caring for others, courage, curiosity, humility, compassion, persistence, and drive matter
  2. Emotions: Be unafraid of intense emotions which may arise from an influence interaction
  3. State: Ask yourself what state would most likely encourage the other person to think, feel and do what is necessary. These may include degrees of calm, intensity, agitatedness, nervousness, tiredness, exictability, openness/closeness, and interest.
  4. Conative: Strengthen your conative so that you can make choices and act on them. This may be dependent on our ability to develop self-leadership — the deliberate practice of influencing our thoughts, feelings and behaviours towards our objectives.

Influencing Through Writing

For situations where you’re unable to influence in-person and need to depend on written media, consider these questions:

  • When do you use written media versus calling someone up for a live two-way dialogue?
  • What process should you follow when writing to hit the bullseye?
  • What other key success factors of written media should be there?

Before you write, consider the objectives, issues to be addressed, timelines and your own state of thinking and feeling on the matter.

Thereafter, aim to communicate with conciseness and clarity, while thinking about the right pace in which your responses should be.

Finally, consider the right tone — in a written form, body language and non-verbals can’t be communicated.

How to Improve Yourself through Influence

Here, you should how you can level up and to strengthen your influencing abilities.

Look for role models, seize opportunities that stretch you, and be willing to leave your comfort zone.

Don’t be shy to ask for and receive help. Often, external parties may be able to identify your gaps better than gazing in a mirror.

Also, be willing to keep trying, courageous enough to manage tension and face conflicts, and be comfortable in your own skin.

Should you need the help of others, consider how you can either create or soak yourself in a high challenge high support environment. These are situations where you can be at your best, without the stress of catastrophic failure should you slip-up.

Consider seeking the right mentor to help guide your journey. Note that a true mentor has five dimensions:

  1. Genuine interest in the mentee
  2. Constant vigilance so that they’re alert to telltale signs of hidden strengths and innate talent
  3. Continuous thought to see how these strengths could be developed
  4. Timeliness so that they are present when the mentee deals with challenges and opportunity
  5. Ability to provide a high challenge and high support environment

Influence and Leadership

In the final chapter, the authors share how positive influence can help you to develop higher order leadership skills.

These include the ability to:

  1. Be present (act in the service of others)
  2. Sense certain signals before you see them, even when they’re weak signals
  3. Perceive the signals to correctly interpret them
  4. Judge more accurately without being judgemental or overly quick to come to conclusions
  5. Seize the right moments to produce the desired outcomes when they appear


Being an ‘influencer’ transcends social media fame; it’s about the positive impact you can exert on interactions, tasks, relationships, or communities.

By embracing the principles and habits outlined in “Positive Influence — The First and Last Mile of Leadership,” we can all enhance our ability to influence for the greater good.

Whether in business, personal development, or daily interactions, understanding and applying these insights can help us to be more productive, achieve greater satisfaction, and growth for all parties involved.

This approach not only fosters effective leadership but also enables us to be more compassionate, deliberate, and effective in our influence attempts, irrespective of our professional standing or social media presence.

For an in-depth look (plus some really useful exercises to work through), do pick up a copy of the book here.

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.

Join The Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>