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The Who and How to Woo

One of the most popular TED talks with more than 26 million views is by Simon Sinek . He has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership — starting with a golden circle and the question "Why?".

This Ted talk is deservedly popular because it reminds us that people don’t care about how or what. They care about WHY. Answer WHY and the reward is energy to make the what clearer, and the how happen. When we are engaged and buy into an idea, then we are energised to take action. To move towards making the idea a reality. As we progress momentum grows.

Answering the WHY for others requires us to have perspective. We can more easily see our WHY. In our enthusiasm we may be oblivious to others WHY and so fail to engage them. 

If a critical role of a leader is to create results that matter, to shape the organisation for the future. Success then requires engaging others in our vision. To get over the inertia of the status quo and create sustainable change.

In the words of March Bukingham, we need to Woo others. He defines Woo as

as a talent for “Winning Others Over”.

 My favourite book on influence is the Art of Woo by Richard Shell and Mario Mousa of Harvard. They describe Woo as:

Relationship based persuasion, a strategic process for getting people’s attention, pitching your idea, and obtaining approval for your plans and projects…

Woo. Simple to say. Hard to do.

In helping coach and train leaders in the art of influence, I distinguish six stages of influence. These can be summarised as:

1.      Play Chinese Whispers: If you can’t get your idea across in a few sentences how can you expect others to get it? 

Try this test: tell one person, ask them to tell another, who repeats back to you. What message did they send? How close was it to what you intended? To inspire others, you need to be able to clearly and succinctly stage your vision for the WHY in a way that they get it and can repeat it. Thus amplifying your message.


2.      Settle in for the long game. Influencing takes time. Define the stepping stones required to get you from today to the future. they may not be clear today, but having a rough set of first steps provides a tangible direction and somewhere to take the first step.


3.      Gather the troops. Who do you need to engage and when? Identify who all your key stakeholders are: those who can help shape your idea, those who may provide valuable insights, who are your critical friends? who have resources you may need? Who may be impacted and who need to be engaged? What might their perspectives be? Listen and learn. Be open to their ideas and input.


When we come from our own perspective we are blinkered to others WHY. Be curious and open minded.

As one workshop participant said to me recently.  “I love it when people criticise my ideas as it helps me to see the flaws that need to be addressed”.


4.      Flex your approach. The art of Woo outlines six discreet channels of persuasion. Effective influencers are aware of their preferred modes and develop the ability to consciously select and shift between channels depending on who they are influencing. This speaks to the need to have self-awareness and perspective.


The six channels they describe are:

                                               I.          Interest based persuasion: what’s in it for me (or them)

                                              II.          Authority: because I say so

                                            III.          Politics:  a coalition of a few

                                            IV.          Rationality: the evidence says so  

                                             V.          Inspiration & Emotion: the vision channel: how I want to see me

                                            VI.          Relationships: because I care


5.      When they say yes… its only just begun. We all experience hearing yes and then priorities change. Look for ways to gain momentum with small easy actions for commitment. Commitments given publically and voluntary are more likely to be actioned. How can you lock the change in to “become business as usual”?


6.      Let it go: When others take on the idea and stat to shape it for themselves, to add their own flavour, then we know we have truly been successful in influencing. Resist the temptation to hold on.  Be prepared to share responsibility and accountability to really engage others.

Many a great idea has failed to see the light of day because the person with the vison has failed to take others along. Failed to get buy in.  As a leader, in the short term we may see traction, but when the pressure is off, people quickly revert back. If you really want to lead strategically, investing in developing your WOO power will help you to achieve sustainable results. A good place to refresh your skills can be watching Simon Sinek or reading The Art of Woo.

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