Persuasion and the Art of Changing Minds are Essential for Contemporary Leaders

Leadership is as much about having a vision and communicating it to the followers as it is about the art and science of changing minds of both the leaders and the followers. To explain this further, one needs to look at the contemporary business landscape where leaders have to not only be persuade but be persuadable meaning that they have to be open to a diverse range of views and opinions and not “close their minds” to alternatives.

Indeed, given the rapidly changing trends and technological changes that characterize the modern day business landscape, leadership is as much about being flexible and adaptable as it is about having a clear and lucid vision and a sense of direction.

Further, leadership is also about changing the minds of the followers. For instance, perceptions about leaders often are formed initially and are modified over a period of time. Once the followers perceive that the leader is unable to deliver the necessary changes and “bring home the goods”, they start having second thoughts and begin to doubt the leader and his or her abilities.

Thus, it is important for leaders that their followers perceive them both as people of vision and men and women of action who can be relied upon to actualize successful outcomes. A good example of this is the way in which the new CEO of Infosys, Vishal Sikka has succeeded in transforming the company being the first non founder to occupy the top spot and thereby ensuring that the employees perceive him as transformational leader rather than someone who is just pushing the same old status quo.

On the other hand, he has also ensured that the past is also not forgotten entirely which means that he is open to persuasion from past achievers and at the same time, able to persuade the present crop of second rung leaders.

Thus, what we have are persuadable leaders who persuade as well.

In other words, leadership in the contemporary business landscape is as much about persuading others as it is about being persuaded.

Indeed, the same example of Infosys would be apt here as leadership in the company has always been about articulating a vision and then actualizing the steps needed to achieve the needed outcomes.

On all these counts, the leaders in the company have had to struggle with initial doubts and met with much resistance to change. It is to their credit that they succeeded in the art and science of changing minds both of themselves and their followers.

Another example of how leaders should be open to persuasion and be persuasive is from the experiences of Google and Facebook both of which went through an initial high following the heady successes of their formative years and then had to grapple with the realities of the economic slowdown.

In both companies, the incumbent leaders invited suggestions from their employees on how to make their companies more effective thereby being open to feedback and suggestions as well as being persuaded about alternative courses of actions that they (the leaders) had not thought about.

On the other hand, they were also persuasive in the sense that they could change the minds of their employees who doubted whether the course corrections would work to the success of the company.

Apart from this, leadership is a process that entails convincing the followers to “walk on water” for the cause that the leaders are espousing. Indeed, as the examples from the armed forces testify, the most successful generals are the ones who can go into battle confident that their followers and soldiers would literally “throw themselves at the enemy” if need be to achieve the desired objective.

Indeed, all these examples prove the point that leadership in the modern context needs both patience and sacrifice as the leaders have to convince the followers to give them time and at the same time “lead from the front” meaning that they have to “walk the talk” resulting in setting examples for their followers.

Management theory clearly indentifies that leaders must also be emotionally intelligent individuals in the sense that they must be in control and manage their emotions and be able to manage the emotions of others. Indeed, leaders are under tremendous pressure to be role models and hence, they must at all times, be able to project confidence and present a picture of reassurance.

At the same time, they must also be honest about any mistakes and must appear to genuinely reflect the disappointments by showing the way to the future rather than being demoralized or dejected due to temporary setbacks.

Modern day leaders must also be individuals who can manage the rapidly changing influences wrought about by technology and have a “grip on the present” without “forgetting the past” and at the same time, “be forward focused” meaning that they must simultaneously juggle past experiences and the expectations, ensure present successes, and build capabilities for the future.

This means that they must draw upon the lessons from the past, manage the present, and be in control of the future. This requires extraordinary abilities which is one of the reasons why many leaders seem to be failing in the context of the high turnover of companies whose shelf lives are rapidly being shortened mainly on account of the inability to manage the different aspects of leadership mentioned so far.

In conclusion, leaders cannot have rigid worldviews and at the same time, cannot be prevaricating. In addition, they cannot abandon their vision because of temporary failures and at the same time, be closed to diverse views and opinions.

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