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Juliette Phillipson - 2024

Influence has long been recognised as an essential element of leadership. Influence has sometimes been considered a bit of a dirty word in social settings. We take a pragmatic approach to influence, that assumes that you're influencing with ethical intent. Certainly, understanding how we influence others and how they influence us is important to anyone in leadership roles and activities.

In his book “Decoding Inspirational Leadership”, Claudio Feser describes nine approaches to influence, three of them known as “hard” tactics, and six of them as “soft” tactics (Feser,  2016).

These are summarised briefly here:

Hard tactics – these are more direct and commanding, often making use of the leader's formal authority, organisational rules, or explicit directives.

  • Requesting: This is a direct influence approach where a leader explicitly tells others what they need to do, often using authority to command action without offering explanations or room for negotiation e.g "I want you to finish this report by tomorrow."

  • Legitimating: Leaders use their authority or refer to rules and policies to justify their requests, making the directive seem more acceptable or necessary e.g. "According to company policy, we need to secure approval before proceeding."

  • Coalition: This tactic involves a leader garnering support from others to strengthen their position before making a request, creating a group consensus that the action is needed e.g. "The executive team and I have agreed that these changes are essential for our next quarter's goals."

Soft tactics – these are characterized by their more persuasive, inclusive, and interpersonal nature. They often appeal to personal values, desires, or emotions, making them more persuasive and less confrontational.

  • Rational Persuasion: Leaders use logical arguments and factual evidence to convince others that a request is reasonable and necessary for achieving objectives e.g. "Based on the market trends, reallocating resources here will increase our efficiency."

  • Socializing: This approach involves building rapport and using personal charm to make requests in a more amiable manner, often preceded by praise or personal anecdotes e.g. "Could you take on this new project? I think it’s right up your alley."

  • Personal Appeals: Here, leaders make requests based on personal relationships or loyalty, emphasizing trust and history between the leader and the follower e.g. "You know how much this project means to me; I really need your expertise on this one."

  • Exchanging: Leaders propose a trade-off or bargain, offering something valuable in return for cooperation or help with a request e.g. "If you can cover this weekend shift, I'll make sure you get an extra day off next week."

  • Consultation: This tactic involves inviting others to suggest improvements or help plan an action, making them feel involved and valued in the decision-making process e.g. "What do you all think would be the best approach to handle this client's request?"

  • Inspirational Appeals: Leaders appeal to individuals' values, ideals, or emotions to inspire them to act or support a proposal e.g. "Your commitment to our cause is why I'm asking you to lead our community outreach initiative. You have the passion we need to make a difference."

Several studies suggest that rational appeals are the most commonly employed influence tactic (Feser, 2016). But which are the most effective?

In a 2017 meta-analysis, Lee et al reviewed the effectiveness of different influence tactics on task-oriented outcomes and relations-oriented outcomes (Lee et al., 2017). The findings revealed that rational persuasion consistently showed positive effects on both types of outcomes across different conditions, making it the most stable and effective tactic. Inspirational appeal, collaboration, ingratiation, and consultation also generally had positive associations with positive work outcomes. Other studies have additionally found that Inspirational appeals are by far the most effective in producing commitment in followers (Feser, 2016). Conversely, hard approaches created almost no commitment and were more likely to produce resistance in followers.

Hard influence tactics are typically more effective and efficient in scenarios such as:

  • static environments

  • straightforward tasks

  • urgent situations

  • when a leader has comprehensive knowledge and experience relevant to the task.

These tactics ensure quick and clear actions without extensive discussion.

Soft influence tactics, while less efficient due to the time and effort they require, are more effective in building commitment. These tactics involve more interpersonal interaction and a deeper understanding of the people involved, making them better suited for:

  • dynamic environments

  • complex tasks

  • ambiguous situations where empowering lower-level decision-making is crucial

The choice between soft and hard tactics often depends on the situation, the objectives, and the relationship between the leader and the followers. Leaders who skillfully blend these tactics tend to be more effective, adapting their approach to fit the context and the people they are leading.


Feser, Claudio. (2016). Chapter 3: The Science of Influence. In When Execution Isn’t Enough : Decoding Inspirational Leadership. (p. 199). McKinsey. insights/leadership/when execution isnt enough/when-execution-isnt-enough-chapter-3.pdf

Lee, S., Han, S., Cheong, M., Kim, S. L., & Yun, S. (2017). How do I get my way? A meta-analytic review of research on influence tactics. The Leadership Quarterly, 28(1), 210–228.

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