Leaders Don’t Coerce. They Persuade.


Guest blogger Atul Teckchandani, assistant professor of management at Mihaylo, teaches courses in entrepreneurship, provides student advising and is involved with the Center for Entrepreneurship. His research examines how different types of organizations in a community collectively affect economic outcomes and entrepreneurial activity. You can follow him on Twitter @atulteck.

A recent CSUF graduate went to work supervising factory workers.  It was discovered soon after that the workers were assembling products in a manner that made them more likely to malfunction after purchase. While other supervisors struggled with getting their workers to revise their methods, he was able to work collaboratively with his team to create a new process that resulted in a much lower defect rate.

He used his influence to gently persuade the workers to fix the problems and increase output quality. In contrast, the other supervisors employed intimidation tactics (“do this, or you’ll lose your job”) to coerce compliance.

Coercion does not work. Persuasion does. Dr. Robert Cialdini, a social psychologist at Arizona State University, is a specialist on persuasion and influence. Through his research, he has discovered how leaders can effectively persuade and motivate others. Below are some of the strategies he suggests for recent graduates looking to demonstrate their ability to lead.

Be likeable.

People are much more likely to do what you want them to do if they find you to be personable, approachable and genuine. Take the time to get to know someone and discover what you two have in common, and praise them for their efforts. Provide genuine and constructive praise, not shallow praise. So rather than saying “good job,” you might say, “I really appreciate how you went out of your way to help me figure out why that machine was not working correctly. Your efforts ensured that we were able to meet our daily production goals.”

Do something nice.

When you do something nice for someone, they are inclined to do something nice for you. This is also known as reciprocity. Be the person who acts first to trigger reciprocity. Help out a co-worker who is struggling to meet a deadline. Make a cake to share with your co-workers. It doesn’t matter what you do; what matters is that you’ve gone out of your way to help someone.

Use peer pressure (in a good way).

People often rely on others for cues signaling how to act or behave. People relate and connect to those who they see as being similar to themselves. Getting these peers to advocate for your position is likely much more effective than doing so yourself. An engineer is probably going to be persuaded more effectively by another engineer than by someone from the finance department.

Find ways to relate to other people.

Recently as I was walking through the Mihalyo foyer, two people came up to me asking for help. They had just come from Nepal and were trying to figure out how to become CSUF students. Why did they approach me? Because I looked like someone who worked here and – more importantly – they were hopeful that I spoke the same language as they did since I looked to be South Asian. I went with them to the CSUF transfer office. When I did, the folks there told me these two people had already talked to their staff for hours and were back again, because they did not like what they had been told. I asked them if we could try one more time. I helped translate their advice, and this time the two aspiring students from Nepal understood and left the office satisfied that they had gotten their questions answered. The advice I gave them was the same that they had been given previously by the transfer office. The difference was the person it was coming from. Instead of coming from someone who was foreign to them, it was coming from someone who they thought was similar – another person who spoke their language and grew up in their part of the world.

Back to the supervisor I mentioned earlier: He was able to work with this team and come up with a solution, because he had taken the time to build relationships with them. They liked him. He was nice to them. And now it was time for them to help him out, and they were more than happy to reciprocate.


While this sounds simple, it takes time to build relationships based on these principles. Tell us how you put these principles to work in your daily lives, and how it has made a difference?


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52 Responses to Leaders Don’t Coerce. They Persuade.

  1. Justin Nguyen says:

    As someone who has worked in retail for three years, I find most of this information useful and applicable. Customers that were familiar with me tended to chat with me and have a better overall shopping experience, which also helped with sales.

  2. Patrick Hayes says:

    This reminds me a lot of the article we discussed in your class “the art of persuasion.” I feel that out of all the above mentioned techniques, the one I utilize most on a daily basis is making the effort to be likable. In addition, I always try to find a way to relate to others, even if it means relating on how unrelated we may be. For instance surfing, me being from a city where surfing is huge, a lot of people ask me if I surf, my response is always “no, I’m not sure what’s wrong with me,” however, I do go on to try to bring up things related to surfing that make help form a connection. For instance: “my uncle actually owns a surfboard company, it’s pretty cool.” Finding a way to relate even on subjects that I may not have too much involvement in is definitely something I do.

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