Be a Better Leader with the Crucial Influence Model

The idea of leadership gets bogged down with lots of shiny trappings. There’s a tendency to focus on charisma, big ideas, communication skills, or how someone looks or dresses. And all of those things have an impact, but the reality is that great leadership is all about influence. The ability to change and direct behaviors consistently and on purpose.

Unfortunately, most leadership books don’t focus on driving behavior change. I recently finished the 3rd edition of Crucial Influence (formerly titled Influencer) and as the title suggests, it’s all about influencing others – which makes it a very practical leadership book.

The book is from the same group of authors who wrote Crucial Conversations (hence the title change to get in line with their marketing). And one of the things I really like about their approach with both books is how they use scientific studies along with lots of research and real world examples to build a working model that can be used to implement their ideas.

Crucial Influence Model

The good news with this book is that they’ve created a straightforward model that’s easy to understand. The bad news is that applying it can be challenging and a lot of their research and examples are centered around major social, cultural or medical behaviors rather than things you’re likely to face in a typical business environment. Still relevant and informative, but may be not as on the nose as you’d like.

To explain what I mean, one of the recurring examples they use is an organization called the Other Side Academy – a non-profit therapeutic community that focuses on helping hard core addicts and criminals turn their lives around. It’s a fascinating organization that’s doing some amazing things and it’s a great way to highlight some of the big ideas. But, it’s a very different environment and challenge than most of us are facing.

In any event, these are still powerful ideas that can be useful in a lot of situations – let’s take a look at the model – summarized in 3 steps:

Step 1: Focus on results. What outcome are you trying to achieve and how can you measure it?

Step 2: Identify a handful of vital behaviors that impact those results. What are the behaviors that need to change that will impact the results that you’re looking for?

Step 3: Engage the 6 sources of influence to drive those behavior changes. More on this later.

The idea of getting clear on what you want to achieve is pretty obvious – but I find that it’s missing in a lot of situations. Also often missing is the idea of finding a way to objectively measure success – without the clarity of focus and a way to measure progress, it’s almost impossible to drive change.

The second step of identifying the discrete behaviors that need to change can be easier said than done. Identifying the vital behaviors that will make the biggest impact on the results that you want. An example in the book on this concept was a hospital system that was experiencing a very high turnover of nurses. Within the overall group, there were a few bright spots where the turnover wasn’t an issue – by studying what these bright spot hospitals were doing differently, they were able to identify 3 behaviors to work on – and that focus allowed them to start solving the bigger issue.

Six Sources of Influence

The bulk of the book is focused on explaining the six sources of influence and ideas on how to put those into play. I found the idea of the 6 sources to make a lot of sense. A lot of books on behavior change look at one or two different angles, but the six discrete, understandable areas feels much more complete. They mention in the book that you can change behaviors with just one or two areas – but the more you can include the better.

Here are the six sources:

As you can see from the illustration, the 6 areas are broken down into logical components centered around motivation and ability.

Personal Influence Components:

Motivation – this is the idea of engaging intrinsic motivation. Is there a way to make this new behavior something fun or meaningful? Alternatively if you’re trying to stop doing something can you make it less enjoyable or make it clear what impact not changing will have.

Ability – Are they not doing the preferred behavior because they don’t know how? Can you help develop skills or spend time to practice deliberately?

Social Influence Components:

Motivation – Is the new behavior supported by others? In a business is it clearly supported by leadership and critical team members? Is there an obvious tangible way that people can see this?

Ability – does the organization enable support for the new behaviors? Are there coaching or tutoring opportunities? Is there training and supporting information?

Structural Influence Components:

Motivation – Are their extrinsic rewards (i.e. incentives)? Or conversely are there disincentives for not doing the behavior? Rewards should focus on the behaviors not just results – and should only be applied after personal and social motivations have been addressed. Translation – you can’t just pay someone a bonus and expect them to change for the long term.

Ability – Can you change the environment to make things easier? Is there a way to remove friction, automate parts of the behavior or streamline processes?

Bringing it all together…

Applying this framework to a more personal situation – imagine that you want to be healthier. The first step would be to figure out the outcome and results that you want to achieve (lose 10 pounds in 3 months and get comfortable walking 5 miles at a brisk pace).

The second step would be to hone in on some key activities or behaviors that you want to address. In this case, let’s focus on working out 5 times a week (at least 45 minutes for each workout/walk) and eating 3 salads a week.

Finally, for the 3rd step we would come up with ways to use the 6 sources of influence (as much as we can):

Personal Motivation – Figure out why you want to be healthier… it needs to be something that’s really meaningful to you.

Personal Ability – Develop a plan for how you’re going to hit your new weekly goals. Be as specific as you need to be to actually make that happen.

Social Motivation – Find a group to spend time with who is actively supporting ideas of fitness and health. Maybe a group of friends or acquaintances who will support and encourage you.

Social Ability – Consider partnering with a friend as a workout buddy to help hold you accountable. Something like a Weight Watchers group or a group fitness program would fit here as well.

Structural Motivation – Find a way to visibly keep your goal top of mind. Maybe an inspiring poster or a chart tracking your progress. Consider placing a bet with a friend on your success – or promising yourself a nice reward if you can hit your target.

Structural Ability – Figure out a way to make it easier to work out and eat your salads. Pick workouts that are easy to do or to get to, consider prepping your ingredients for the week ahead of time.

This might seem like overkill – It’s likely more than you need for some behavior changes – but if you’ve ever struggled to change, it would make sense to go all out and cover all 6 areas.

Bottom line – the idea to leverage the six different sources of influence makes a lot of sense and I really like the thought process of at least thinking through them all. Ideally you would come up with initiatives to address all 6 areas, but as they point out in the book, a lot of challenges won’t require all 6 – maybe just one or two to start out with.

I also like the idea of getting clear on the single outcome you’re trying to achieve and spending time up front to figure out the vital behaviors that need to be addressed.

It’s not a perfect book – and probably not as impactful as Crucial Conversations, but this is a worthwhile model and there are a lot of solid ideas on behavior change that can be applied to a lot of situations.

What do you think? Does this model resonate with you? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach