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How leadership influence tactics could decide the presidency

A look at classic influence tactics of leaders, and what Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are doing to win over voters

7 min read



24 years ago, seminal research was published that described nine influence tactics that leaders utilize to get results from their teams and determined which were most effective.

The study measured the responses generated by a leader’s preferred approach and identified three reactions that would result from an influence tactic: resistance, compliance or commitment. Apparently, our political candidates may not have read this important work, and that just might impact their success on Election Day.

As a leader attempting to influence certain behaviors on your team, or a candidate seeking to woo voters, it’s obvious that of all the possible responses, commitment is most desirable. When people are committed to your ideas, their level of agreement is internal as well as external, and they are more likely to take initiative, demonstrate effort and be persistent about engaging in the activities that support you and your request of them. From a political perspective, gaining commitment from voters is the best outcome for any candidate.

At some point in your career, you’ve probably also witnessed compliance and resistance to your ideas. Of these, compliance is the trickiest, because people seem to agree with you externally but are largely apathetic about you or your request and will put minimal effort toward delivering on it. Think of compliance as “I’ll do it when the boss is watching” behavior.

Resistance, on the other hand, is more straightforward. People are opposed to your ideas (or you personally) and will try to avoid doing what you ask of them, sometimes outwardly refusing or attempting to delay taking action on your request. It’s a “digging heels in the sand” kind of reaction that’s easier to spot.

In the political environment, resistance may also prompt people to actively work against a candidate, seeking to destroy the legitimacy of their campaign or defame the person running for office. We’ve seen signs of resistant voter behavior targeted at both presidential contenders.

In these waning days of the race, the focus for the Clinton and Trump campaigns should be on maintaining support from their committed bases and seeking to transform compliant voters into committed ones. With just over a month left until the election, the amount of time and energy required to shift resistant voters into a Clinton or Trump camp will drain needed resources from efforts that could support success in the voting booth.

So, what influence tactics have these candidates used most often? Which ones are working, and where might they shift focus going forward?

Credit: Alaina Love


Regardless of your view of his politics, the influence method used most successfully by Donald Trump has resulted in him securing a solid base among frustrated, disenfranchised blue-collar workers, who view him as the leader that will allow them to reclaim their place in the economy and will eradicate the perceived threat on the American way of life posed by immigrants.

Although he may not fit your vision of a Martin Luther King Jr. style of orator, his go-to influence tactic is one of Inspiration, which is the most effective of all nine approaches in generating commitment. He’s figured out what his base wants to hear.

“We’re going to make America great again,” is the refrain of his approach. Or, “I’m going to build a huge wall.”

And, with some voters, it’s working. Trump also favors the legitimating influence tactic. Through it, he promotes himself as the person who is in the best position to make needed changes in our country — he’s not a politician: he’s a businessman and dealmaker who has the authority to negotiate in the best interest of America.

“I know more about ISIS than the generals, believe me,” he told us, though the logic of how he does is as yet undemonstrated. Trump uses this style to establish his opinions as facts, regardless of the degree of truth underpinning them. It, too has been effective, as little change in the size of his base has resulted when any lack of validity in his comments has been exposed.

The trouble is that these styles are working for a narrower segment of the electorate than Trump will need to secure the presidency. Going forward, he may need to shift to using the style of consultation more often, expanding the input he receives and the opinions he considers from those with actual expertise in the subject area. Whether he can do that is a subject of hot debate.


Hillary Clinton, by contrast, with arguably more government and policy experience than previous presidential candidatea, has been less effective in applying inspiration as an influence tactic, which might be needed to secure a comfortable double-digit lead going into the final weeks of the campaign. It’s true that she is outspending Trump on political ads, but many of them are “rational persuasion” focused.

“Here’s the truth about Donald Trump,” they tell us. “These are the things he’s lied about. Here are the facts about why he is so unfit to lead.”

We can all debate who has uttered more untruths or who has won the award for the most outlandish lies, but the fact of the matter is, Clinton’s message isn’t inspiring. It tells voters why they shouldn’t vote for Trump, but offers no engaging reason why they should vote for her instead. Moreover, it may stimulate more compliance behavior than desired, which won’t necessarily translate into eligible voters making the trek to the polls on Election Day.

Clinton’s focus in the coming weeks should be to consistently deliver an inspiring message and engage voters in the same way that Bernie Sanders did in the primaries. In doing so, she might move some compliant voters into her camp, especially young Sanders supporters who are still struggling with committing to a Clinton presidency or are considering a third-party candidate.

This presidential election is among the more divisive political cycles in recent history, but it has, nevertheless, been a leadership lesson in the power of influence. Leveraging that lesson effectively can make a profound difference in your own leadership success — if you understand the influence tactics you are using most often and the results you’re achieving with them.


Alaina Love is chief operating officer and president of Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (McGraw-Hill). She is a recovering HR executive, a global speaker and leadership expert, and passionate about everything having to do with, well … passion. Her passion archetypes are Builder, Transformer and Healer. You can learn more about how to grow leaders, build passionate teams and leverage passion to create great customer outcomes here.

When she’s not working with her Fortune 500 client base, Love is busy writing her next book, “Passionality, The Art and Science of Finding Your Passion and Living Your Bliss,” which explores the alignment of personality, purpose and passion, and the science of how it contributes to our well being. Follow Love on TwitterFacebookYouTube or her blog.

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