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Learn how to lead ‘asian style’ in three minutes

One of the most valuable lessons I ever learned from Roel van den Berg is to exercise the Four-step Model of Influence. I seem to remember that it was originally an Asian model, but frankly; I might also have made that up. But that it helps your innovation culture, that’s a fact.

This blog is about influencing. Influencing is one of the most important competences in your work; after all, you want to get things planned instead of being a result of chance, fate or nature. In fact, I could argue that those three are basically the same thing, but I’ll leave that for another article.

Whether it concerns negotiating more pocket money with your parents when you are thirteen, influencing your boss to give you a promotion, or getting your team to change the backlog or implement a pivot: you want to achieve things, right? Right!

How does it work? Many people think that exercising influence is a matter of steering people in a certain direction ,or saying what you think. In management language this is called Swoop & Poop management: like a seagull making a dive, quickly pooping all over the project and swiftly disappearing into the blue skies again. It’s a pretty Western way of doing things. Certainly in the Netherlands we are not afraid of it either. “Nice and direct!”, we call it.

But it usually doesn’t work very well. People become detached. Victims might follow you for a moment, but as soon as it is ‘over’ they will return to their old behavior. Teammates will not feel seen. Why should I actually do what she asks? Who does he think he is? Let’s just get back to what we were doing.

Asians (according to Roel, in my memory) do this differently. They use four phases in the exercise of influence. It looks like this:

1. Make contact

Making contact means; to get in touch. Introducing yourself, and building rapport. “How are you?” Rapport is “a state of verbal and non-verbal involvement of people together”. The rapport ensures a ‘click’ between those involved. The more positive the contact is, more involved you seem to be. Looking each other in the eyes is often half of the rapport.

2. Follow their lead

Following the team’s lead is the process in which you follow the lead(duh) of the other person or the team. “What are you doing?”, “ How far are you? Can I help?” Keeping your mouth shut and just watching and listening can also be extremely functional. Only after you feel that you are part of the team and understand what they are doing, you can continue.

3. Steer

Steering can vary from questions such as “Don’t we have to turn left here?” to a figurative jerking of the wheel. If you steer, it’s good to do that explicitly: “Don’t be scared, I’m going to say how I think it should be done.” Steering also involves checking if the result is moving in the right direction. After all: you want to get results, right? Or do you just like to intervene or disrupt? Then there might be some more complicated things going on.

4. Let go

The last one is an important step that you might overlook. After all; your goal has already been achieved, right? But just as you have to end a courtship carefully so that you don’t cause trauma, you have to consciously end a short-term working relationship like this. The relationship retroactively gains more value if you close it with dignity. Think of sentences like; “What do you think?” Or “Do you have enough now to be getting on with?” Letting go is the beginning of endependence.

In short

When I reread it this blog myself, I feel that I have become a bit more aware of these steps in the last twenty years. And that’s rather a good thing, because I used to be quite a content-person, so to speak.

I have learned that the above model is, in the end, more effective, more pleasant, safer and more constructive for everyone. And — in keeping my fascination — it makes a positive contribution to your innovation culture.

Written by

Lead of the Innovation Factory @ Rabobank Headquarters. Also Lecturer/coach @IDETUDelft

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