The Best Leaders Accomplish Their Work Through Influence, Not Authority.

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For the last 20 years, René Rodriguez has researched and applied behavioral neuroscience as a dynamic keynote speaker, leadership advisor, world class sales expert, and renowned speaking coach. He will be joining use at AIHce EXP 2020 virtual as the opening and closing keynote speaker. We chatted with him to find out more about why he thinks influence skills can help IH/OHs be more successful at their job and how they tap these ‘unknown’ resources.

How does influence work in the areas of health and safety?

I get asked why I love working with health and safety professionals all the time. The answer is simple—they save lives, but unfortunately, people don't listen to them. One of the most frustrating aspects of human nature is our resistance to making critically important health related changes. We know that most of our healthcare budget is consumed by treating the effects of five common behaviors: smoking, poor diet, not getting enough exercise, too much stress, and drinking too much alcohol. These are all choices we know are bad for us, and yet we continue to make them.

What does this have to do with occupational health and safety? Everything! Our challenge isn’t knowing what the issues are. Our challenge is knowing how to communicate the issues and confront the powerful force of denial. Humans are wired to dismiss consequences that will occur far in the future, especially when we are surrounded by other people engaging in the eventually destructive behavior with no immediate negative effects. This is where the science of influence can play a critical role in helping people engage with efforts to make changes necessary to reduce risks. By understanding the hidden motivators of behavior, we can connect with people on deeper levels to help them not only understand the risks, but to act on new behaviors. When we have a clear connection to our values, the necessary steps to change become easy. The obstacle is that most professions focus on the “hard” sciences, but ignore the “soft” sciences, including the psychological factors that influence and change behavior.

Do better influence skills help an IH/OH professional be more successful in their work? How can it help their overall career track?

Imagine a leader giving a speech that earns a standing ovation, or a leader running a meeting to rave reviews. Now imagine that after the speech or meeting no one changes their behavior, no one does anything different, and everything goes back to exactly how it was before. Would you call that the speech or meeting a success? The bottom line is that leadership is about influencing behavioral change; there can be no leadership without influence. Influence is the “how” of leadership, which requires leaders to have high-level skills in the art and science of influence.

Managers also use influence, of course, because only a fraction of managerial work can be accomplished through the exercise of authority. Both managers and leaders aim to accomplish an organization’s goals. Managers do it through plans, organization, processes, task assignments, measurements, and so on, but they must also direct people and manage their performances. It is impossible to manage people solely through command-and-control methods. People are human beings, not machines, mechanical parts, or assembly lines. They respond best when they are treated with the respect due to them and have a voice in how the work is done. They remain loyal and engaged when they feel valued, trusted, well informed, and cared for. That’s why the best managers also lead through social and emotional influence, not just rational appeals.

Leaders mobilize people around a compelling vision of the future by inspiring people to follow in their footsteps. They show what’s possible and motivate people to make the possible real. They energize people and focus them on how to fulfill their dreams, give them a sense of purpose, and leave them with a sense of accomplishment when the work is done. Leaders model new ways of thinking or acting, encourage new ways of looking at situations, and give people the words and the courage to make those new ways their own. The best leaders are teachers, mentors, and role models—and they accomplish most of their work through influence, not authority.

In many cases, leaders and managers are one and the same. The division vice president who leads a team of people to accomplish something they might not have thought possible is also a manager. The manager who oversees a team’s task performance but also looks after the team members’ career planning, and coaches them on developing their skills, is a leader too. The art of management and leadership is knowing when to act as a manager and when to act as a leader, when to use authority and when to use influence, when to ask and when to tell, when to take over and when to let go. In every case, it is crucial for leaders and managers to understand the range of influence techniques, know when and how to use them, build their power bases so that they have the capacity to be influential, and sharpen their skills so that they can influence people effectively. We call this “neural leadership”—the art of achieving goals for influence, change, and growth through the application of psychological research, that brings out the most creativity, quality, intelligence, generosity, and the best performance in people.

What about outside the 9-to-5 workday? How do improved influence skills affect our relationships outside the office?

Influence is a part of everyday life. As parents we try to influence our children to brush their teeth, shower, and eat vegetables. Children try to influence their parents to let them stay out later. Spouses try to influence each other to get what they need from a relationship. Teachers try to influence students to pay attention. It is part of the human condition to influence. In fact, I would say that influence is one of the best parts of the human experience. Conversely, lacking influence can feel ostracizing and lonely. By understanding how to communicate what we need in this world, we are increasing our happiness and quality of life.

What’s one key thing you want your audience to learn?

I want people to understand that we can all learn how to be more influential. There is a science as well as an art to it, which, through practice, can be improved upon. I have learned that engineers, hygienists, and other highly specialized professionals gravitate to this work because it gives them effective methods to communicate important information that can literally save lives and families.