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Leading by Attraction:
Collaborative Leadership Strategies for The Wider World

by Christopher Meyer on 07/28/2010

Power and position fail to deliver when collaborating across boundaries: internal and external. In response, leaders are increasingly called upon to lead by attraction.  While attraction is intuitively easy to understand, the principles and practices are not well-defined.  This essay offers a framework for understanding attraction and putting it to use.

In my lifetime, I’ve worked with or for only a few great leaders.  Great means they define the limits.  By definition, they are rare in comparison to the thousands who do a good job every day.  The great ones illuminate the frontier.

This blog reflects my personal attraction to the frontiers of leadership.  Leading by attraction matters most to those who are working across boundaries where formal power, title, signing limits, budgets has little traction.  As I reflect back on the great leaders, each intuitively understood and embodies these principles.

  1. Attraction starts with presence as defined by others – Declaring one or one’s company attractive does not make it such; picking up and responding to cues does.
  2. Attraction depends on needs at a point in time – Ideas to expand sales through innovation are attractive in a growing economy; cost-control techniques invite attention when times are tough.
  3. Attraction starts with a visceral reaction – Be it through aesthetics, usefulness, cost, inclusiveness, access, status etc., there has to be an allure.
  4. Strong attraction depends on a harmonious blend of multiple factors – Beauty combined with functionality is superior to either element alone.
  5. Attraction grows through interaction and analysis – Visceral reactions may prompt attraction but a decision to join, collaborate, purchase or invest entails richer contact and deeper analysis.

As the world evolves, the baseline for attraction evolves.  Society has migrated up Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs such that people in the developed world are increasingly attracted to people, firms, goods and services that enrich rather than merely sustain life.  On some level, we all seek a cause to join.

At the end of the day, two characteristics differentiate attractive people, products, services and companies.  The first is they stand out from the crowd.  “Me-too” products, services and leaders are commodities that do not compete with those embodying a richer combination of substance and style.  Defining the winning combination of design, utility, cleverness, value, and trustworthiness is the first challenge.

The second characteristic is authenticity.  Attractive leaders engage openly, avoid overselling and deliver what they say.  They understand that a spark is required to start a fire of attraction but it’s the steady fueling through execution that fans the flames.

Putting the 5 Principles into Practice

Leading through attraction depends on compelling advocacy and personalized inquiry.

  1. Know what you stand for – Crisply advocate what you stand for including what’s “over-the-line” to establish a foundation for you and boundaries for the cause.
  2. Know your audience – if what you stand for is unlikely to be attractive to your audience, find yourself a different one or alter your stance.  Don’t waste time.
  3. Advocate by attending to how you engage others as well as what you say
    • Be appealing – That’s the goal.  Create an attractive presence and avoid using formal power, position and one-way communication.
    • Connect viscerally – Find the spark that connects with people in the moment.  Everyone lives in the present.
    • Use multiple dimensions – motion, props, sound, video, cartoon…anything but a bland description.
    • Provide compelling evidence – evidence provides cognitive hand-holds that helps people move beyond their visceral response.
  4. Bring the future forward –Tickle their aspirations with a narrative that animates the potential of the future you’re advocating.
    • Illustrate what will happen if we keep on the current path vs. taking the new path
    • Personalize this future for others while seasoning it with optimism
  5. STOP & switch to inquiry – “What do you think?” works for many; just resist filling that awkward transition silence as people shift from listening to speaking.
    • Appealing at this point requires you to use empathy, openness, listening and provide authentic responses
    • You’ll get a surprising question — answer within your limits and then invite others to address it.
  6. Have a next step – If you’re not moving towards this attractive future yourself, why should anyone follow you?

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