Author Jocelyn Davis is revealing age-old business secrets in her new book “The Art of Quiet Influence.” The book delves into strategies that Eastern philosophers and women are already intimately familiar with: How to lead from behind or beside rather than from the C-Suite.
“Often when people think about influence they think about persuasion or manipulation, but my book is more about collaboration,” says Davis. “Influence, as I define it, is about getting work done with people that you don’t have authority over.”
Influence, as I define it, is about getting work done with people that you don’t have authority over.
Take, for example, the classic scenario of a group presentation. How do you keep everyone on track and inspire quality work without coming off as controlling? Influence.
Davis arrived at this topic first by working with the Forum Corporation, which has been advocating influence workshops over hierarchal management training since 1970s. This was her first introduction to the idea that leadership doesn’t have to mean a rigid org chart with top and bottom tiers.
The topic was further cemented when she earned a masters degree in Eastern Classics from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Turns out, Rumi, Buddha and Confucius knew a thing or two about guiding people gently.
Davis’s book centers on 12 practices, the three primary of which are Inviting Participation, Sharing Power and Aiding Progress. All of these strategies work together to create an inviting atmosphere that promotes productivity.
Inviting participation means making everyone on the team feels like they belong and serves a purpose. Sharing power offers control to all members of the group rather than a top-down power structure. And, aiding progress means seeing the project through to the end rather than giving orders and leaving it to the team to finish.
“What my research shows is that that’s actually much more effective in the long run than a dominant style,” says Davis. Unfortunately, not all of these strategies translate to the Western corporate tradition. In each section of her book Davis includes, “Western pitfalls,” where strategies fall short or need to be adapted to a more rigorous work culture.
Davis says the theory of influence is particularly applicable to women, because we’ve already been using these strategies for centuries. “I think influence is for everybody, but I do think that women are especially interested in this concept of influence and find it especially valuable, because women are often vilified for seeming to be ambitious or in charge,” she says.
I think influence is for everybody, but I do think that women are especially interested in this concept of influence and find it especially valuable, because women are often vilified for seeming to be ambitious or in charge.
“We do have more of an uphill battle when it comes to leadership. Women tend to be quite good, because we have a lot of practice, at leading from behind or leading from the side. Not being too obvious about ‘hey, I’m in charge.’”