10 Keys to be a Highly Influential Leader

How capable we are to influence, persuade, convince or sway ideas, perceptions, opinions or belief systems determines our ability to lead others.

Influence is the ultimate value of a great leader. And the key to deal well with people is in our ability to influence them. Jim Rohn, the teacher of Anthony Robbins who is the world’s most renowned coach, said:

A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.

And how well we could help our people do well or perform better depends on our abilities to influence them to do better. Also, how capable we are to influence, persuade, convince or sway people’s ideas, perceptions, notions, opinions or even their belief systems determines our abilities to influence them. Influencing others is a skill because it can be acquired by learning and experiencing. And this is both a highly essential and valuable skill, for a powerful leader, which needs to be acquired not just for the purpose of corporate use but to be applied with our loved ones at home as well. What more do we need for our loved ones, than to influence and guide them to be better human beings and see them socially responsible, successful and radiant in life? This is one area adults do not spend enough time – to focus and reinforce their skills and abilities to influence themselves, their spouse and their children. Hence, we find all around the world more and more dysfunctional families – where husband/wife are disconnected and parent-child/siblings relationship down in the doldrums.

Here, I shall reveal the 10 most important keys to be a highly influential leader from the world’s best negotiators and master persuaders:

1. Understand Them Deeper

In relating with others, nothing has more significance than to first understand the other party. This is one of the foremost vital habits of highly effective people professed by Stephen Covey: Seek First to Understand then to be Understood. Also, the world’s best negotiator, Herb Cohen, teaches: “A key to negotiation is knowing the other party’s primary & secondary needs”.

Neuro Linguistic Programming or NLP has many tools useful to help understand people so much better. The basis of the logical need to understand people well is: If we don’t understand people can we influence them? Perhaps we still can; but we will not usually be able to influence them well in the way that we want them to be influenced. Here, I shall offer two NLP tools how we could understand people deeply:

i. If we need to understand thoughts (how they think what they think) we can use the “Back-tracking tool”:

When a comment or suggestion is made, we could understand how they got that idea (primary needs’) by using their words (we call it ‘Key words’) and asking a deeper question (to obtain the Back-tracked words’). And this process can be repeated till we gain 2 to 3 levels of understanding which shall be the ‘secondary needs’. This is a very powerful process for the salesperson to understand the deeper inner needs of the customer/prospects. And for managers/parents to understand the deeper inner needs of the staff/child respectively. Most people do not go through this process, they just ride on the surface of understanding (asking one question after another) and not get deeper; thereby fail to influence others well.

The next step to influence them is then to utilize all the key words and back-track words back on them and to slip in with what you want to encourage them to accept/do. This technique of excelling in your communication work wonders to influence people!

ii. If we need to understand behaviours (why they do what they do) we can use the “Twin-Pillars tool”:

This tool is perfect for understanding hot buttons or motivational patterns. To understand how people are motivated, we have to first understand that there is nothing we could do if we are not motivated to do it. Even if it meant sitting still or doing nothing: it only means that we must have been motivated to sit still or do nothing!

For the purpose of understanding this tool, we shall picture two pillars of forces in front of us: one we call it ‘pleasure’ and the other we call it ‘pain’. Whatever we are doing, we are doing it either because we are moving towards pleasure or away from pain. There’s no right or wrong or even have or shouldn’t have here – these are just the ways we are mooted, our maps of the world. And it can be mooted by either one or both the pains and pleasures to move us towards our intended goal.

We can do a simple test here: Just think about why you are reading this article or intend to finish reading this article? You could still be reading either because you want to know how to handle/influence a tough/difficult person, in which case we are moving ourselves from some pains. Or you could still be reading because, we would like to encourage someone around you to do something for you, in which case we are moving towards some pleasures which we need.

So, the next time we want to know how people are motivated, we just simply enquire how come they want to do that and then get deeper to asking ‘what they want from having that’ repeatedly until you see a series of away pains and toward pleasures. The next step to influence them is then utilize all the words they say back on them and to slip in with what you want to encourage them to accept/do. Try it!

2. Use Only THEIR Words

Notice from the two tools above, it is imperative to use only the words they say back on them to influence them. A word of warning, when we are using the tools to ask questions, we are not to offer any answers of our own. If you do, you are doing this thing called ‘projections’ in communications. Projection is good because you are lending a helping hand with the answer; but not good because you are not listening to their words and cannot so use it to influence them later.

Just check out if a child would say such things as: ‘I am lazy, I don’t do my homework or I always play computer games’? These must be the words from the parents, that’s why the child is not influenced to change and focus on their homework. So, the influence idea is simple here, if your boss says ‘we must work as a team’. Then, just say ‘yes, boss we must work as a team and that’s why you need to give us more time’; or whatever you need from your boss. Don’t say ‘yes boss we must work together’ – you’ll sound like a duck to the chicken. The principle of influence in communication here is that you must literally be a chicken to the chicken and a duck to the duck! In NLP, we say that we must verbally pace (use his words) or mirror our influencee, if we want to be a great influencer – if you can’t remember any of these, just follow what your boss say ie. use his words back on him. This brings us to the next point.

3. You MUST Pace and Lead

From the example about the boss above, notice that on the one part of the sentence is to use back the words he uses; and on the other part is making a request of our needs. This is actually the Pace and Lead tool in NLP, which compose of two parts – Pace (following what he says) and Lead (to tell him something new or ask a question). This is a very powerful way to communicate which I always do in my therapy work; whether it be about understanding the client deeper or leading him to a new idea or concept of himself. To be a powerful leader in communication, we must always Pace and Lead!

For that matter you’ll notice that we have actually covered the Pace and Lead techniques in both the Backtracking and Twin Pillars tools above. Therefore, if we have:

- Trouble in communication

- Do not know what to speak

- Can’t carry a conversation well

- Do not know how to pose questions

- How to stop an old fella from nagging

- Difficulties in negotiation

- Can’t lead people well in communication

- Etc, etc

Rule of Thumb : just Pace and Lead!


When I said that you literally have to be a chicken to a chicken and a duck to a duck, implies that we MUST be very FLEXIBLE in our communication in order to be great influencers in both verbal and non-verbal means. In most cases, most people as well as managers will say that they are very flexible in handling people and in communication. The fact of the matter is if they were being questioned as to what and how many techniques they used. They will usually fall back on how they have analyzed their words/story, understood the situation and then offered some advice/solutions. That’s about it! And that’s only one way and not being flexible at all.

That is in fact using a very analytical (left brain) method on handling people. Whereas to influence people well, we must only use techniques that influences the right brain since the right brain is the emotional mind and the causer for most of our behaviours. Hence in order to be very flexible, one must use NLP right brain techniques that are proven to influence people very well.

One way to influence people non-verbally in NLP is by matching and mirroring them; ie. taking on a body language that meets with the influencee. The premise of this tool lies on the fact that: people usually like those who are like themselves or we say ‘birds of the same feather flock together’. So, matching and mirroring our target is to build subconscious rapport and requires some flexibility is adjusting our body language to follow theirs. If we are following too closely we will be mimicking them and when they find out, it will break rapport immediately. Hence, NLP suggests to give it a good 10 seconds before following body movements or postures.

Now, we can always say we would like to be who we are like the young Gen Y; ‘be yourself’ is the buzz word of the new generation. But if we act the way we would like to act that is naturally comfortable to us, then, I would say you are not flexible enough to be influential as a leader or negotiator. Notice how little children are great negotiators and that’s because they are very flexible in dealing with their parents. They usually win!

5. Engage the Law of Reciprocity

The Law of Reciprocity states: ‘when we give someone something, they will have the urge to give us something in return’. It doesn’t say when we give them something, they will definitely give us something back in return; but that they will only have the ‘urge’ to give us something in return. If we have been receiving some gifts or trial samples from cosmetic counters or department stores and found we were later obligated to buy something in return, we have participated in the law of reciprocity.

So, in the corporate world we engage this law by first offering either gifts, items, samples or services beyond what is expected of us. In return, we might receive favours, positive attitudes, easy rapport, a sale, etc. And this works very well in the service or hospitality sectors, where hotels or hospitals doing very well in the industry currently, do not just satisfy their customers but amazes them with services beyond expectation.

In the office we can engage this same law by helping our colleagues, supporting our bosses or peers in a way that they haven’t expect and that will in turn influence them to be more compliant with our requests. Stephen Covey, the writer of the book Seven Habits of Effective People, was noted to have been very successful in working with his boss because he could fill in the areas very well where his boss was unable/didn’t had the time to handle. This deed of his earned him much better leverage in dealing with his boss as compared with all his other colleagues who later found he had the unfair advantage.

6. Use Language Softeners

In cases where there are staff or colleagues who are resistant to open up to you or who refuse to share information, we could use language softeners to soften them up to open up to us. In the process of influencing, it is imperative that the influencee opens up to us for two reasons. Firstly, it provides a channel of information to understand them better. Secondly, it indicates compliance to our direction. Some eg of language softeners appear as sentence starters such as:

I would just like to know

I am really curious

I was just wondering

If you could help me

When used with a curious tone will tend to soften up people to share information or assist when help is needed.

7. Overt Influence – use Q-tags

Question tags are actually plain grammar and in a way a closed questioning technique. The tendency of using a question tag is to attract a ‘yes’ answer. And people will generally comply if it’s a general truth. Common Q-tags are:

Isn’t it?

Didn’t it?

Couldn’t it?

Wouldn’t it?