Think about the people who influenced you in a positive manner. Maybe it’s the teacher who sparked a passion for learning, the adventurer who gave you the travel bug, or the public figure who opened your eyes to a new avenue of service. Whoever comes to mind, you’ll observe that somehow they motivated you to see your situation in new ways, helped you develop a more positive attitude, prompted you to think beyond yourself, and encouraged you to participate in a meaningful and life-changing endeavor.

Perhaps you hope to influence others to join your cause or consider your point of view in a similar manner, yet you’re stumped about how to do so. How can you use influence in a positive and pro-social manner without veering into either manipulation or ultimately ineffective behaviors?

In his book Leadership: Research Findings, Practice, and Skills, Seventh Edition, Andrew J. DuBrin addresses some of the ethical and honest tactics that a leader can use to influence others in a positive manner. We’ve summarized several of them below:

  • Lead by example. Align your words with your actions, and model the behavior you’d like others to follow.
  • Use rational persuasion. Carefully research your topic and present your findings in a clear, logical, and honest fashion.
  • Understand your audience. Know their needs and concerns, and make your case in a manner that outlines the benefits they will personally see as a result of participating in your project or efforts.
  • Ask for the person’s participation in a straightforward and forthright manner. If you have a positive relationship with someone, you can simply say: “I’d like your support” or “I’d appreciate your help.” Their trust in you, and their fondness for you, may be motivation enough for them to lend their support.
  • Know your stuff. If people recognize you as an expert in a given area, they will be more likely to respect your opinion and your judgment.
  • Request and return a favor. In some situations, you may be able to offer your support or efforts in exchange for the other’s support or involvement. For example, you may tell another person: “If you’ll help me complete this project by the end of the week, I can help you next month, when your project is due.” People value reciprocity and are willing to help those who help them. (But be sure to uphold your end of the bargain; those who consistently back out of their promises lose others’ respect and are less likely to earn peoples’ support in the future.)
  • Back up your request with your legitimate authority. Never use your role or title to twist someone’s arm—but, if you do have a position of responsibility within an organization, it’s within your role’s scope to ask your team to comply with policy or participate in efforts that are required or requested by the administration or upper management.
  • Be personable. Though you may not be the next star on the speaking circuit, your enthusiasm, charm, and connection with others can inspire people to follow your lead.
  • Engage others in the process. By encouraging their involvement right from the start, you’re also likely to establish their buy-in on the idea or project.
  • Build your connections (and your support network). The more support you have, the more likely even more people will come alongside you—especially when your supporters are knowledgeable and respected.
  • Be a team player. Others are unlikely to follow or be inspired by those who are solely out for themselves; demonstrate your willingness to collaborate, cooperate, and participate.
  • Get involved. Leading a project? Don’t just expect others to take care of the details. Develop and hone your expertise, and take part in your team’s efforts to get the job done. (DuBrin, pp 245-250)

Of course, you’ll want to avoid:

  • Dishonest and unethical tactics, such as including pure Machiavellianism (sheer grabs for power)
  • Outright manipulation (e.g., peer pressure, using half-truths and fabrications to color a person’s perception of a situation, or making a person feel guilty for not going along with your idea)
  • Subtle and less-subtle pressures such as bribes, coercion, threats, and intimidation; and using false humility as a means of controlling others’ opinion of you (DuBrin, pp 253-254).

Additionally, the use of ethical tactics in an unethical manner is highly inadvisable; your integrity is one of your most valuable assets.

Reference: DuBrin, A.J. 2013. Leadership: Research Findings, Practice, and Skills, 7th Edition. Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.


Who are the people that have been a major influence in your life? How did they motivate, inspire, or encourage you to be who you are today? What character qualities did they possess? Share your story below.