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6 Leadership Red Flags That Actually Prove You’re More Persuasive, Charismatic, and Trustworthy Than You Think, Backed by Science


Ask anyone to describe the attributes of a great leader, and persuasiveness and charisma usually make the list.

After all: Great leaders are extroverted. Confident. Inspirational. At times, they’re able to turn a group of individuals into a real team through force of personality alone. 

If not, don’t despair. What might appear to be red flags indicating you aren’t particularly charismatic can actually be signs you’re more persuasive and influential than you think. 

You sometimes speak slowly, which makes you appear less confident

There’s reason behind the “fast-talking salesman” stereotype: In certain situations, talking fast works. But not always. 

According to a classic study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, speaking faster is effective if your audience is likely to disagree with you.

Why? If your audience is inclined to disagree, speaking faster gives them less time to form their own counterarguments; that gives you a better chance of persuading them.

But when your audience is inclined to agree with you, speaking slowly gives them time to evaluate your arguments and factor in a few of their own thoughts. The combination of their initial bias, plus your reasoning, makes them more likely to help persuade themselves. 

Think of it as harnessing the power of confirmation bias.

So if you’re preaching to the choir, don’t be afraid to speak slowly. You won’t seem less confident. Instead, you’ll give them the time they need to come even farther toward your side. 

You freely admit the negatives … 

Think about the last time someone tried to persuade you to do — or feel — something. In all likelihood, they glossed over any potential problems, challenges, or negatives.

After all, why give you fuel for your devil’s advocate fire?

Yet according to University of Illinois professor Daniel O’Keefe, sharing one or two opposing viewpoints is more persuasive than sticking solely to the benefits of your position.

Because no idea is perfect.

And every audience knows that. They realize there are other perspectives and potential outcomes. The people you hope to persuade are more likely to be persuaded when you share the other side of an argument. When you freely share potential negatives, and then describe how you will minimize or overcome those problems if they occur.

The people you hope to persuade are more likely to be convinced when you admit they may have justifiable reasons to hesitate or disagree.

Think that makes you seem less confident? As always, displaying a little vulnerability is a sign of greater confidence and self-assurance.

… Yet ultimately you focus on the positive

While it’s tempting to use scare tactics, positive-outcome statements tend to be more persuasive: According to research conducted by the aforementioned Daniel O’Keefe, most people respond negatively to feeling pressured or forced into changing a behavior.

In researcher-speak, gain-framed messages are much more persuasive than loss-framed messages. Like “Let’s work together to improve your sales” instead of “You’d better start hitting your targets.” Or “Let’s find ways to better recognize and praise your team,” not “If one more of your employees quit, we’re going to have to make a change.”

Granted, effective leaders are forthright and honest, and tough love is sometimes the best approach.

Yet taking the person you hope to persuade to a better place — instead of somewhere he or she should avoid — is nearly always the best way to help them change.

You don’t always jump right in

Where leadership is concerned, immediacy matters. Great leaders never wait. They step in right away.

According to research recently published in The Leadership Quarterly, people tend to be much less charismatic when they’re at a relatively low point in their circadian rhythm, and much more charismatic when they’re at a relatively high point

Morning people? They tend to be more charismatic early in the morning, while night owls tend to be more charismatic later in the day.

And then there’s this: Morning people perceived a speaker to be more charismatic when they viewed a videotaped presentation in the morning. Night owls viewed the same speaker as much more charismatic when they viewed the presentation at night. 

When you want to inspire and motivate people, first consider your circadian rhythm. Think about the time of day you feel most energetic and enthusiastic, at least in broad terms like morning or afternoon. (Or early morning or late afternoon.)

Then think about the people you want to inspire and motivate. While it’s unlikely they’re all either larks or night owls, odds are more fall in one camp than the other.

Then do your best to line up your tendency with theirs.

Because “right now” might not be the best time, for you or for the people you hope to persuade.

You’re a “doer,” not a talker

A 2020 study published in Journal of Business and Psychology found that, when given the chance, employees on in-person teams tend to choose charismatic, confident, extroverted people to be their leaders.

Employees on virtual teams chose a different type of leader. They chose people great at planning. Prioritizing. Helping others stay on task.

They chose doers. They chose people who got things done.

As the researchers write:

In contexts of higher virtuality, the importance of leadership emergence antecedents shifts away from ascription and toward achievement, and functional behaviors become more valuable markers of leadership status relative to leader traits.

Want people to follow you? Help them get things done.

And speaking of getting things done …

You’re better at working than “leading”

Maybe, like many people, you feel you lead more by example than by words. Maybe that makes you feel less persuasive.

According to a study published in Industrial and Labor Relations Review, technical expertise matters hugely. As the researchers write:

The benefit of having a highly competent boss is easily the largest positive influence on a typical worker’s level of job satisfaction.

Employees are far happier when they are led by people with deep expertise in the core activity of the business.

Or, in simple terms, if you can do an employee’s job, he or she is much more likely to be happy at work.

And that, research shows, makes them more productive. Makes them more likely to stay, rather than leave.

And makes them more likely to respect and trust you.

Which, ultimately, makes them much more likely to listen to you.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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