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As young children we learn, very early on, how to influence the people around us. It starts when we are trying to get our basic needs met. We learn that when we scream or cry, people react. As we grow up, we learn the subtleties of language and the hidden power to communicate feeling and emotion through our voices with pitch, intonation, inflection and sheer volume. We learn the power of body language and to choose our words carefully when we are trying to influence any situation. Throughout our lives, we continue to fine tune our communication skills in our life’s journey trying to influence the world around us.

We can’t raise amazing families nor succeed in our professions without the ability to influence those around us. It is the most important skill we can master, yet most of us don’t put much thought into how to do it, much less how to do it well. When we are successful at influencing others toward some positive cause, we call each other leaders.

Leaders are those who inspire others toward the realization of a vision. Leaders bring change to life in ways that would not have happened without them. They create sustainable, positive results that can be seen in the behavior change of the people around them. Good leaders are able to communicate in a way that inspires large groups of people. The greatest leaders in history, like Martin Luther King, JFK or Muhatma Gandhi have been able to inspire entire societies, countries and continents of people to accomplish amazing things and realize visions that others thought to be impossible.

It turns out that the most powerful motivation does not come from the outside, but from the inside. Great leaders inspire self-motivation around a positive change by creating the environment for it to occur. Inspired, intrinsically motivated people are more creative, more responsible and produce sustainable change on their own.

Intrinsic motivation is sine qua non for inspiration. Without intrinsic motivation, you will never achieve inspiration, but it is not the only thing required. For example, it is difficult to inspire someone who is apathetic to your cause to begin with. Note that I said difficult, but not impossible. In some cases, people are just functioning on a different level than you are and it may take years of education and societal pressure to change peoples’ minds.

There is a common thread to how great successful leaders create sustainable, positive change in their environments. There is overwhelming evidence in the social sciences around what causes intrinsic motivation and behavior change in people. We can learn from all of this research and weave it together for our cause to create this “pull” that results in inspired people.

Technology has a crucial role to play in creating an environment that “pulls” your customers, your employees and your entire ecosystem to the future that you envision. In fact, technology can function as a “leader” to help you scale your message efficiently and consistently. It can be employed like no other investment to move the needle on anything you are setting out to accomplish at scale. To turn that around, anything that you want to accomplish at scale requires technology to do it. When it is done well, it can help you expand your sphere of influence effortlessly through others and it can help you deepen your impact in many ways.

Push Vs. Pull

Life is the dance of influence. We spend most of our lives trying to push on our world and the people in it. We try desperately to bend the world to our will with sheer will or manipulation. We are told from childhood to be aggressive, set goals, demand the best and drive for results. You can find it embedded everywhere in our language and it has a prominent place in the language of business. We are supposed to “make” things happen. We need to “drive” our people for results. We are told that we must manage the numbers or manage our people to their numbers. The numbers are important indicators of health and they are important to watch, but they will not inspire people to achieve greater results.

We get upset when things don’t go the way we think they should or when people won’t listen to us. Yet, when things fail around us, in environments that we have control over, we have a tough time understanding how to influence the people in our environments toward a better future that we all would prosper from. Frustration occurs when we try to push for change and don’t see results.

Business leaders that have created an environment of inspiration with staying power have innately followed a formula. It’s been invisible and lacked supporting data in the past, but that is rapidly changing. Add in some emotional intelligence, a little charm, good communication skills and you will maximize your relationships with your employees, your customers and even your vendors.

Whether we are in a formal leadership position or any other role, the ability to inspire others is a building block of success. We all have the opportunity to be leaders, no matter what our role in our company is. We are all capable of learning the formula for leadership and applying it to our corner of the business.

  • In a sales or marketing role, our goal is to inspire our customers to choose us.
  • In an operations or customer support role, our goal is to inspire our customers to be loyal consumers of our product or service.
  • In a management role, our goal is to inspire those around us to excel.
  • Even in a janitorial role, our goal could be to create an inspiring environment to help our company succeed.

Inspiration is impossible to achieve without communication and without influencing others.

So how can we influence others? There are three ways, two of them involve pushing on those around us through force or manipulation. The last, and only sustainable way, is to thoughtfully pull on them and creating an inspiring environment.

Here are the three ways to cause a behavior change in the people that are in our sphere of influence:

1. Force

Most of us have likely experienced a manager in our business lives who felt that it was necessary to take out the hammer to make people perform a task. They might use their position of power to veto the decisions of their team because of their personal opinions or feel the need raise their voice and make demands because “they said so.” These managers sometimes appear to be wildly successful in old school hierarchical and fear driven organizations, but if you look deeper, you will often find nasty, derisive politics and dishonesty in these organizations. These managers are “put up with,” but never followed.

Force is rarely necessary and is really difficult to argue in favor of if your intent is to create positive cultures and productive, growing business environments. For example, where flash decisions need to be made immediately, force can be used to save lives. In the military, where command and control environments are necessary on the battlefield for teams to achieve success and save lives. Or, during a fire, when that flash decision is needed to save lives now. However, having to force people to behave in a way that you want through a command and control environment should be seen as a failure in leadership and it generally means that the leader is either too lazy to invest the time to figure out how to inspire the right behaviors, or they simply don’t have the competence. Sometimes, it is the manager’s ego and a selfish concern for being in control of others looking good. Force is often used by those with a need for control and the result is either compliance (with complacency and apathy) or outright defiance.

Strong arm tactics in business may lead to immediate results, but they never lead to sustainable results.

Force undermines the core Self Determination Theory tenet of autonomy that we will discuss in more detail later. People need to feel that they are in control and that their decisions are their own. When you force behaviors through threats and commands, they harbor contempt and act out of spite. They will never do their best, nor are they ever really committed to the results. Your teams will consistently underperform.

2. Coercion

Coercion is a short term way to impact someone’s behavior, but it always breaks down over time. Coercion is a little more thoughtful than force, takes some thought and effort. It is usually well intended, but the side effects are rarely considered and can be detrimental.

In the best cases, coercion in the business environment manifests itself as incentives, promotions, commissions, loyalty programs, reward programs, etc. These can have some value with large groups and can be useful for businesses if applied carefully and thoughtfully. In the worst cases, it is manifested as bribes, outright lies, propaganda, smear tactics or manipulative marketing.

Coercion can help you achieve short term successes and improvement, but it generally has to be sustained and will not lead to long term behavior change because people will recognize that they are being manipulated at some point and that also tends to undermine the Self Determination Theory tenet of autonomy.

3. Inspire

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said:

Pull on a string and it will follow wherever you wish. Push on it and it will go nowhere at all.

Inspiration is the only way to create sustainable and positive behavior changes in people. It is also the most difficult of the three mechanisms to achieve, because it requires a lot of work. That may be why it is so rare. But, it is also the most valuable. Inspired people can accomplish amazing things. Inspired employees are your brand ambassadors and will work to help you improve your product or service. Inspired customers become brand advocates and sell for you.

The only way to inspire people is to work really hard at understanding what motivates them and communicating with them in impactful ways and with impactful experiences. That means that you have to believe in it yourself and work hard to figure out how to create an environment that fosters sustainable inspiration with your customers and in your ecosystem.

The best leaders in the world understand this innately. They work to create inspiration into each and every interaction with their customers, employees and vendors.

As businesses, we should strive to inspire our customers at every turn. Inspiration is a lot of work and involves a true commitment to building 100 year relationships, but every investment you make toward building inspired customers and employees will pay off in spades.

I realize this rant is more about leadership than technology, but these concepts are critical to my argument that technology can, and should, function to pull our users toward the goals that we set out to accomplish at scale. If you are trying to use your Website to push or manipulate your leads through a funnel to improve sales, you might find some short term success, but good luck sustaining that.

In every business on earth, technology has the power to scale your message and move, touch and inspire your customers to ultimately earn brand advocacy from them. If you start with the intent to “Pull,” you create a sustainable result.


“Maslow on Management” by Abraham Maslow, 1998

“Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek, 2011

“The Handbook of Self Determination Research by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, 2013

“Instant Influence” by Michael Pantalon, 2011

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