What exec hasn't had to sell consumers on the superiority of a brand, or employees on a goal, or clients on a strategy? "Leaders almost by definition are people who change minds," writes Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner in his new book, Changing Minds (Harvard Business School Press, 2004). Gardner explores the forces at work when a mind changes, and how to use those to your advantage. What we might think of as an epiphany, he says, is more often a gradual shift induced in a variety of ways — like these.
Connect with your audience
"Resonance," Gardner says, is a union of likability and trustworthiness. The former is hard to control, but the latter should be the hallmark of any effective leader. Think of the magnetism of former GE CEO Jack Welch. Think of JFK. If people like and trust you, they're more apt to listen to your side of the story.
Know what you're up against
Perhaps you've tried introducing a software upgrade that no one wanted. "It is essential for any leader to be aware of resistances," says Gardner. Reframe sensitive issues, encouraging people to see change as a learning experience. Be lenient if things don't go smoothly. And do yourself whatever you ask of others.
Offer the carrot — cautiously
Granting rewards for a promise of support can work — but beware false loyalty. "[Rewards] rarely change minds permanently," says Gardner. "People generally revert to their previous behavior once the reinforcements end." Instead of bribery, develop sound business strategies and build for the long term.
Kill them with logic
While resonance may tug at emotions, it ultimately takes reason to sway logical minds. Lay out your argument step by step, and be as clear as possible. Amazon's Jeff Bezos is a master of the genre: He knows when to make gut calls — and when to demand reams of detailed metrics to justify strategic decisions.
Mix Your Media, and Repeat Often
Present your argument in a variety of forms and forums. "The more representations you use, the more likely one will click," Gardner says. Consultant Keith Yamashita is known for using colorful graphics and creative spaces to illustrate new concepts or ideas to clients instead of just handing them a stack of paper.
A version of this article appeared in the November 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.