Beyond Mr. Nice Guy


Influencing behavior is an intentional act, a skill that can be acquired. In order to expand your influence, you need to take into account the dynamics of influencing behavior and expand the number of emotions you can access and apply. It’s time to move beyond Mr. Nice Guy.

Influencing behavior is difficult particularly because “behavior” is dynamic (it changes a lot) and “influencing” is nuanced and some assume elusive. Fortunately, we can break down the magic formula a bit so that influencing behavior is less of a mystery. Your goal is to act with focused intentionality to produce the result you want.

The Ingredients

1. It is important to have an understanding of the dynamics of relationships. These don’t have to be purely business relationship but it helps because personal relationships, although complex, don’t have the established business referenced hierarchies that involve money, power, work product, collaboration and mobility.

2. It is important to have a sense that individuals and groups have their own unique DNA. What may influence one individual or group may not influence another individual or group.

3. It is important to have a sense that leaders have their own unique DNA but, like individuals and groups, leaders can learn new behavior patterns.

4. It is important to have experience attempting to influence behavior. Fortunately, we begin to influence the behavior of others when we are newborns, so we have a wealth of experiences to draw from. In fact, we are constantly trying new strategies to get what we want throughout our lifetime. As a result, some people collect negative behavior traits along the way, through modeling or through rewards for bad behavior. These negative behavior traits run the gamut from passive aggressive behavior to violence. Others may fail to gain a tangible understanding of how to get what they want so their needs go unfulfilled, which leaves to frustration, sadness, depression, inappropriate behavior, etc.

5. It is important to have an accumulation of good will, which fosters respect. Good will and respect are not the magic ingredients, however. You will not get an invitation to influence behavior regardless of the amount of good will and respect amasses, so stop waiting for one. A good leader will begin influencing behavior quickly, without months or years of relationship building. There is one caveat, which comes in the form of a teacher (tutor, advisor, coach, or mentor), as there is an implicit contract to change behavior. Aside from these roles, most folks will resist outside influences, particularly if it involves additional work or change – thanks but no thanks, I’m just fine.

6. It is important to have an awareness of your reputation and leadership position within the company. Are you perceived as quiet and aloof? Are you low man on the totem pole? An awareness of your reputation and leadership position provides the context from which you will need to pivot. This is particularly true if your reputation doesn’t command the amount of respect needed to successfully lead (i.e. influence behavior).

7. It is important to have knowledge of strategy – where is my team now and where do we need to go today, tomorrow, a month, year, or ten years from now. You have to know where you want to take your team in order to lead them there. This is a big picture and little picture understanding of next steps, which necessitates reflection and intentionality. There may be times in which quick fixes are best but try to influence behavior for the long run.

8. It is important to know that leading is not dragging. Leading is mastering the art of getting others to follow you.

9. It is important to have an emotional range in your toolbox to easily access according to context – where the individual/group is, where he/they need to go, and history (what has and has not worked in the past). If being an asshole is the right emotional tool, then be an asshole but do so with intentionality and not by default, because you understand that being an asshole is what is necessary to impact or change behavior in this context. Being direct with neutral emotion should be the tool most readily applied. Being nice/affable is how you should behavior during “down time” not “work time,” unless you are trying to get something from a superior. Being direct is not being edgy. Being direct is matter of fact with neutral, not negative, energy.

10. It is important to understand what it means to be selfless verses selfish. Influencing behavior in a healthy way is a selfless act, not a selfish act. A selfish act is an action taken for one’s own interests regardless of its impact on others. For example, a leader who enjoys ranting, demeaning others, or playing gotcha as the dynamic makes him feel good, powerful and without controls placed on his behavior. On the other hand, a selfless leader will ask the tough questions, demand accountability and do so at the expense that such interactions take on his psyche/day. A selfless leader places the good of the company before the good of his day because the point of his job isn’t to have a good day but to make certain the company make a profit, which provides jobs for good people. In the end, with good leadership come more good days – so there’s that.

Specific Take Away: Acknowledge the complex dynamic involved in influencing behavior, don’t wait for permission to influence, expand your range of emotions, and apply your influence with thoughtful, focused intentionality.