The Best Leaders Accomplish Their Work Through Influence, Not Authority


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 in Atlanta as the 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 within 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 the critically important health related changes we need to make in our lives. We know that most of our health care budget is consumed by treating the effects of five behaviors that are not unknown to us. Smoking, keeping a poor diet, not getting enough exercise, taking on too much stress, and drinking too much alcohol are all choices we know are bad for us, 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. We are challenged by how to communicate the issues and confront the powerful force of denial. We are wired to dismiss consequences that are far in the future, especially when we are surrounded by other people engaging in an eventually destructive behavior with no immediate consequence. This is where the science of influence can play a critical role in helping people engage with the effort to make the 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 become easy. The challenge is that most professions focus on the academics and science but ignore “soft” science, the psychological factors that play into influencing and changing 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 great speech that earns a standing ovation or a leader running an amazing meeting to rave reviews. Now imagine that after the speech and 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 behavior change; therefore, 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 control and the exercising 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 performance. 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. People work best when they have a voice in how the work is done, and remain loyal and engaged when they feel valued, trusted, well informed, and cared for. That’s why the best managers also lead through the 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 profound 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 what 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 also a leader. 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 like to call this “neural leadership”—the art of achieving goals for influence, change, and growth through the application of brain research, that brings out the most creativity, quality, intelligence, generosity, and highest performance in people.

What about those times outside the 9-to-5 workday? How do improved influence skills affect our other 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 professions gravitate to this work because it gives them a more effective methodology to communicate such important information, information that can literally save lives and families.

We're excited to have René Rodriguez return to AIHce EXP. For a taste of what you're in for, you can also view an after-conference interview we did with him last year in Minneapolis. Register for this year's conference today; the Advance Rate savings for the Virtual AIHce EXP disappears on May 4.