When I am feeling especially honest, I admit that success in business depends in large measure on one's ability to influence others-to get them to do what we want. Customers need to be convinced to make a purchase. Employees need to be convinced to make a sale or build a product or whatever their job may be in order to make that sale possible. They may even need to be convinced to pack up their things and leave peaceably when a termination or layoff is appropriate.
As a business leader, you often find yourself in a position of having to exert influence over others. Businesses succeed by getting hundreds, thousands, even millions of people to behave in desired ways in order to help accomplish the business's goals. And this means the owners and managers are in the wholesale business of modifying human behavior.
A scary thought on a number of levels. First, changing human behavior is a difficult thing to do, and second, it carries with it considerable responsibilities. In my book Motivating & Rewarding Employees, I include a chart that shows a range of ways of motivating people to do what you want them to-from coercive, nasty methods at one end of the spectrum, to friendly, mutually beneficial ones at the other. It is easy to use coercive methods if you think about it. Trickery, sheer force or the threat of physical violence do influence others-but not for good and not in ways that build businesses or retain employees and customers over the long haul. So for practical as well as ethical reasons, businesses need to be in the business of aligning their interests with those of customers, employees and suppliers.
Alignment is the first step in successful efforts to influence, and it comes from leaders and their insight into what other people may want and need. It is always a good idea to check on your alignment now and again. Are we doing things that give our customers and employees opportunities to achieve their own worthy goals? Are they better off for working with us? If not, business is going to be a lot harder than it ought to be, and nobody is going to profit substantially from your operations.