How to Win Bosses and Influence Everyone

About one-third of Wharton alumni aim to influence individuals above them in their organizations’ depth charts. About one-quarter are looking to influence peers, while another quarter are aiming to win over people outside their enterprises. Based on an informal poll of the audience during a recent Wharton alumni webinar, this data might not have statistical relevance across all of the alumni community. However, these responses framed a wide-ranging, informative discussion about building relationships and gathering support for your ideas by G. Richard Shell, the Thomas Gerrity Professor at Wharton.

To those seeking to impress their bosses, Shell advised that the key is gaining “face time” with superiors to build relationships and ensure they perceive your expertise and competence.

What happens if you get this face time and sell bosses on your ideas, and then they take credit for those ideas?

“Great,” said Shell. “You are really looking for people who can be your champions.”

Bosses tend to do this. They invest in your ideas because they see a gain for themselves. Steve Jobs, the recently deceased leader of Apple, was notorious for this.

Just be sure, Shell added, that people within the organization know that the ideas were yours. He refers to the “Matthew effect” of reputation, based on the biblical gospels. Success and recognition gained early in a career can snowball throughout an individual’s career, ultimately leading to an eminent reputation. On the other hand, if an individual fails to get credit for his or her early accomplishments, what little reputation that has been built can easily be taken away.

G. Richard Shell

In another informal poll of the webinar audience, Shell found that about 30 percent of attendees favor using rationality and data to persuade people. The professor of legal studies and business ethics and management emphasized that it is critical to be able to talk in all six languages of persuasive communication: not just rationality, but authority, vision, relationships, interests and incentives, and politics.

Someone who can apply all six as needed can build relationships with anyone—friends, colleagues, family and strangers.

“If you’ve got these skills, my view is, they’re the secret sauce of relationships,” Shell said.

Shell’s webinar, “Strategic Persuasion: Winning Others Over to Your Ideas One Person at a Time,” took place on Jan. 31.

You can access the full lineup of past and upcoming events at the Wharton Webinar Series page.

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