Two Tips on Building Influence from Yes!

The book, “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive” highlights a number of tips to improve your influence. Each tip is illustrated with a story or two, the description of the scientific study used to support the finding, and the reference to that study if you want to see the underlying science.

Each tip is provided in a chapter, and you guessed it, there are 50 chapters in the book. Each chapter is an easy 5-minute read. Here are two of my favorite tips:

Ask, but ask for just a little bit.

I had an uncle who seemed to always say, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”. But asking for a favor, or a donation, or even a sale, is tough and not always successful. The idea in this tip is that if you ask for just a little bit, the person is more likely to give you what you want.

The study involved asking people for a donation to a charity.  The control group was asked, “Would you be willing to help by giving a donation?”  The test group had an amended question, which asked for a tiny bit, “Would you be willing to help by giving a donation; even a penny will help”.

The people who were asked with “even a penny will help” were more likely to make a contribution.  Almost twice as many made a donation.  Even better, the average donation was about the same across both groups.   Asking for just a little bit gets twice as many contributors, and doesn’t reduce their contribution.

How can we use this in everyday business?  We often work in cross-team initiatives, where we work with teams across the organization. Those teams have different goals and we have to lead through influence.  The people we work with on these projects are often volunteering their time to the initiative.  Getting someone to contribute their time might work if you ask for their advice; even just a minute of their time will help.  You might try something like, “we are working on an initiative to improve the customer focus of our user stories, would you mind giving us you opinion? Just 2 minutes will help.”

Do you have other ideas about how this tip might help? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

This tip is described in Chapter 20 of the book.

Be generous

Being generous is a great way to live. The joy of giving doesn’t just have to be around the holidays, but all year long. Generous people tend to have happier lives. And, according to Yes!, generous people are more influential.

Generosity comes in several flavors. You can be generous with favors, compliments, and even small gifts.

The case study in this chapter described a guy selling raffle tickets for a charity event. He went around and made a sales pitch to a number of people, asking them to buy the raffle tickets. But, the day before, he gave a number of them a soda. He just went up to them, handed them a soda, and said “here, you look like you need a Coke”.

The people who received the unsolicited Coke bought twice as many raffle tickets as the control group. This principle is called reciprocity; people are likely to reciprocate if you start with a gift.

A side benefit, being generous is also helps you be happy – enjoying life.

Chapter 9 describes this tip, with another story about Bobby Fischer being generous to the country of Iceland, which paid off later in his life.

These tips were found in “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive” by Goldstein, Martin, and Cialdini (Free Press, June 2008).

Book cover of "Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive"

Book cover of “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive”


It Pays to Listen

From personal experience, some of the most frustrating times of my life, in and out of work, are when I wanted to communicate something, but the leaders were not listening to me.   As a leader, listening benefits both yourself and your audience.

Dick Bass was a successful businessman, in the energy sector, and he also loved to challenge himself with climbing mountains. He reached the summit of Everest twice, and is the first person in the world to climb the Seven Summits which are the highest peak in each of the seven continents.

You can imagine a man like that has many stories to tell. One day, he was on a flight, and he started telling his seatmate many of these stories for the entire duration of the flight. As they were landing, he realized that he had totally dominated the conversation, not even learning the man’s name or occupation.   He asked the seatmate for his name and occupation. Turns out, it was Neil Armstrong.

Leaders need to listen. Some of the least inspiring moments that I’ve personally experienced is when my boss is not listening to me during a 1:1 session. I’ve seen managers who keep one eye on their screen, not fully engaged with our conversation. The message that I received was that the next email or Slack message to the manager was more important that what I was saying. Yes, this also includes those managers with smart watches; all of your screens apply.

Leading today largely involves collaboration between teams, and one of the key traits of an effective leader is one that listens, so that all team members have their opinions heard. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the key traits of an effective leader – which includes listening.

Neil Armstrong was famous for being quiet and not wanting to talk much about his accomplishments. He probably enjoyed listening to Dick Bass talking about his climbing feats. However, when it comes to your team, don’t be like Dick Bass on that flight.

Neil Armstrong's official NASA photo

Neil Armstrong’s official NASA photo

Career Pivots

Richard Branson with his parents

Richard Branson with his parents

Richard Branson recently wrote about career pivots – if you aren’t doing well on your chosen path, pick a different path.  “Everyone has something valuable to bring…”, where he shares a couple of stories about people that did exactly this, and turned adversity into an asset.

Building this site and the leadership course is a bit of a pivot for me.  I’ve been coaching and mentoring upcoming leaders for a long time, but on an individual basis – as part of my job as a leader working for a large corporation.  I’ve decided to take my favorite part of my profession, and make that my full-time occupation.

Often, we aren’t happy with our current situation, the job itself might not be fulfilling, a bad boss, a mis-match between the company values or even just a long commute.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently showed that people change jobs almost 12 times during their career, and that study was pretty narrow and reflected baby-boomers in the US.  I imagine the average will increase in the future.

I remembering seeing a Venn diagram (nearby) about how you should feel about your job. You really want to find a role where you enjoy the work, you are good at it, and it pays sufficiently.  This view helped me make several career changes.

Venn Diagram showing your ideal job: Pays well, you enjoy doing, and you are good at it.

Your Ideal Job –

If you are considering a career pivot towards management, please check out the training available with the Software Leadership Academy.  Moving into management usually pays better, and you can take training to learn how to be good. The last bit, do you enjoy it? That will usually take giving it a try.



Status Update: Rebooting this effort

Wow, its been a while since I’ve done an update and a lot has changed. I’ve made some changes in my personal life that will allow me to spend a lot more time developing this course.  I’m hoping to have it in place, and do a launch in early January.

If you find this site, please check out the course.  I’ve marked it as free while I develop the materials, hoping for early feedback.  Jump in while its free, I only ask for your honest feedback.

The home page has been updated with the new focus, helping engineers or new managers learn the skills to be a front line manager.  This follows the 4 P’s, and a T model that I’ve been using for years. People, Product, Process, Project, and Technology.    The first iteration of the course, SOEPPL (Strategy, Organization, Execution, Process, Product, and Learning) was more focused on a second-level leader or director.  Hopefully, this new direction is more focused and useful.

Another change, I’m using a training course provider,, to handle much of the stuff that isn’t related to delivering useful content (hosting, authentication, billing, etc.).  Check out the course:

My focus over the next few weeks is creating the content, building awareness of this site and content will follow.


Status Update: Assessment Videos are up

The first step in building an effective strategy is to do an assessment of your current situation. A comprehensive assessment will cover a number of topics:

  • Technology & Industry trends
  • Strategies for your wider organization
  • Strength of your team
  • Quality Practices & Outcomes
  • Technologies used by your system

The first set of videos for The Software Leadership Academy Test Leadership Class were just uploaded to the Strategic Leadership section of the class. These videos show how to conduct this assessment and be prepared to create an effective strategy for your organization.

Next up will be the videos and templates to create the strategy.  Following that, we have videos close to completion in the Organizational Leadership, Execution, and Process leadership.



Goals for the Software Leadership Academy

This is the inaugural post of the Software Leadership Academy blog.  Welcome to the site, and if you have read all the way to the bottom of this blog, congratulations, you found the first post.

I started the Software Leadership Academy to help prospective leaders in software engineering develop the leadership skills to be an effective leader.  I have over 30 years in this business, with more than 20 in leadership positions.  I’ve studied business formally, earning an MBA, and have been through many leadership development programs conducted by my employers.  All of these lessons have been tested in reality.

I’ve also coached, mentored, interviewed, hired, and promoted many leaders though these years. The content of the Software Leadership Academy is drawn from all of this education and experience. These are the same lessons that I’ve learned, and taught to new engineering leaders.

My goals for this site are to teach you the leadership skills and mindsets to be an effective leader for your team and your organization. If you are an engineer aspiring to become a manager, my goal is to teach you the skills to be a front line manager. If you are already a manager, my goal is to help you become a better manager (actually, a leader, and we will discuss the difference).  People who are already managers should learn the skills to become senior managers or directors.

This blog will introduce many of the topics that are available in the course, you should benefit just from reading this blog. For deeper lessons, with downloadable tools and a community of leaders, do consider signing up.  (its free for now, while I’m developing and refining the materials).