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Dialog 7: When you need to persuade


Leaders are associated with change. With change comes fear—primarily a fear of the unknown. Leaders overcome that fear, in part, by returning to fundamentals and moving from them to correlative fundamentals. Notre Dame football coach Frank Leahy tried using this approach after a football game his school lost by a wide margin. He assembled the team in the locker room afterward to explain a new strategy, basic step by basic step.

What the Experts Say

The mystery of excellent customer care was revealed in a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal two decades ago. Beneath a picture of Lee Iacocca ran these words: "There is no great mystery to satisfying your customer. Build them a quality product and treat them with respect. It's that simple." Use simple exhortations such as these three lines to persuade your staff of the importance of customer service or any other mission-related focus.

"We're returning to the fundamentals, men," he informed them as he reached for a nearby object. "This is a football."

Figure 3.7 When you need to Persuade

One of the linemen, sitting in the back of the room, was trying to take notes. "Wait a minute, Coach," he implored. "Not so fast!"


You have a plethora of persuasion tools available to you in your leadership role. The football anecdote illustrates two:

  • Fundamentals
  • Humor

Additional tools include the following:

  • Precedent
  • Statistics
  • Anecdotes
  • Competence-liberation

What the Research Shows

Anecdotes are more believable than statistics alone or policy statements regarding a company's commitment to avoiding layoffs. That was the finding of J. Martin and M. Powers in a study reported in Psychological Foundations of Organizational Behavior (Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1982, pp. 161–168).

It's this last tool that's used most in the script, which finds you persuading a staff member to take more interest in the customer. The specific strategy is known as the F-R-E-E Approach. The first three letters stand for Fundamentals, Reassurance, and Excellence. Usually, the first three steps are all that's needed to persuade. But if your employee needs extra convincing, you'd include the final E-step: Experiment.

What the Research Shows

Technology has facilitated opportunities for customers to make their complaints widely known. The precursor of cyberspace complaints may well have been the formation of "I hate Eastern Airline" clubs of angry customers that existed for well over 25 years.

The modern equivalent is the story of David Felton, a 25-year-old who set up a Web site that became a gripe forum for those dissatisfied with treatment they received in a fast-food establishment. The company bought his Web site for an undisclosed amount—an amount he's planning to use to put himself through law school! Sometimes, you have to use true-but-horrid stories like this to validate your persuasive message.

Further Considerations

Different people get the point at different times. If you find that the first step in the F-R-E-E Approach makes the point and the person is responding positively, you need not go much further in your persuasion attempts.

Learn to read body language. It'll help you decide whether you need to proceed to more directive alternatives with a staff member whose mind needs to be changed.

Ask Yourself

  • What techniques do I find most persuasive?
  • How did John F. Kennedy persuade comfortable Americans to give up luxury to join the Peace Corps and accept "the toughest job you'll ever love"?
  • What are the dangers of being too persuasive?
  • What historical examples can I cite of leaders who persuaded large groups of people to do things that horrified the rest of the world?
  • Could my persuasion efforts cause any possible harm?
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