The Howells Group Blog

Walking the Tightrope

balancing, tightrope, article on balance, article on influence, article on manipulation,


When teaching leaders about the need to become highly effective influencers, somebody inevitably asks me the following question:  “When does influence become manipulation”? It’s a fair and important question, because influence can easily lapse into manipulation, and any of us can quickly fall off that “tightrope” as we walk the fine line between the two.

Let’s look at definitions first.

Influence is most often defined as “the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force; producing an effect on the actions, behavior and opinions of others”.

Influence helps produce a desired result. It’s interesting that often the very word itself creates a negative interpretation; like nefarious political intrigue, shady business deals and used car sales techniques. But influence itself is neutral and can be negative or positive. Think of those who influence you in small or large ways: mentors who’ve had lasting positive influence, that one brave person who speaks the unvarnished truth in a meeting, encouraging you to do the same; coaches, teachers and friends. The power of influence is responsible for producing new directions, positive change and growth.

So what about manipulation, then? Looking again at the actual definition of the word, helps me make the distinction: “exerting shrewd or devious influence, especially for one’s own advantage”.

One small word informs us how to stay balanced and helps us avoid falling off the tightrope to the side of manipulation – that word is intent”. If at any point my intention is to be devious for my own advantage, as the definition states, I’ve lapsed into manipulation. If my intentions are to exert a positive and powerful force into a situation for mutual win, I can walk the tightrope with balance and integrity.  Effective influence requires that we build trust, and work during every conversation to demonstrate positive intent in word and action. This serves to underscore and expand our possibilities for powerful, positive influence as a leader. 


Here’s a downloadable pdf of the article –  Walking the Tightrope

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