Leading and Influencing – a quick guide to the 7 Tools

Over the last two years we’ve collaborating with Nick Zienau at Intelligent Action to fuse his approach to training in leading and influencing with our approach to conceptual design training. Nick’s teaching is based on the Seven Tools for Leading and Influencing, an approach he has been developing and delivering for over 25 years with organisations around the world. We are really glad to be able to share Nick’s overview of these tools here for the benefit of our readers and learners. If you want to know anything more about Nick’s Leading and Influencing training, contact him directly at nick@intelligent-action.com

Leading and Influencing

Our approach to leadership and influencing is based on the idea that good leaders /professionals need to be able to empower and get the most out of others to be really effective.
We are less interested in how you can control others – partly out of principle – we don’t like to do it or have it done to us! We also know that controlling others or manipulating them doesn’t really work except in the crudest sense. When we manage/lead people we generally want them to cooperate not just with their bodies but with their minds and their emotions – we seek commitment and motivation. Control and manipulation are poor tools to achieve this.

Hopefully much of what is written here is fairly simple conceptually – that’s because we have found through experience that most of the ways of influencing are difficult not because we can’t understand them in principle but that what is hard is to be to sufficiently self-aware and skilful to actually behave in those ways which the context demands of us. This is why we ensure our training courses and our approach to coaching are practical, concerned with actual behaviour and real impact on others. What matters to us is to help people make step changes in their leadership behaviour an this is best done by keeping concepts simple and focussing instead on the process of change.

Often the most basic level is the most important – for instance being able to take the step to being client-centred. What this really means is being able to act in a way that is helpful to someone else rather than in  o ne’s own self interest.It is interesting to see how difficult that really is. Many people think they are more able to do this than they are. For many people change involves first coming to a new awareness of their behaviour and its impact.In our seminars we do this in a friendly but honest way – relying greatly on the interactions within the group of trainees to provide the experiences from which people can learn to extend their repertoire of behaviours.
We act both as teachers, coaches and model the tools we teach throughout the seminar.

Intervention Styles

These were first defined by Blake & Mouton in the 1980’s in their book called simply “Consultation”. Their work was built on by Cockman et al, who explore in detail what each style actually means in practice in their book “Client- Centred Consulting” (the latest edition is called “Consulting for Real People”).

The styles are seen as very specific and distinct modes of behaviour which can be adopted by the consultant in their interaction with the client and which produce very different results.


The principle in using them in a conscious way is to choose a style that is appropriate for that client at that moment rather than staying with the one with which the consultant feels most comfortable.

This idea of using the styles is that you choose a style that meets the needs of the client and empowers them – rather than simply using a style which “gets the job done” or gets our needs met. In this sense the consultant is using their influence to build the client’s capacity rather than simply using their own.

Getting to know the styles

To understand the styles fully we need to know about the following:

  • Background assumptions made in using the style
  • Intentions in relation to helping the client
  • Actual behaviour of the consultant using the style
  • Risks of using the style

Most people will already use many aspects of these styles in their day-to-day interactions:

  1. In the Consulting & Influencing seminar our aim is first of all to assist you as a participant to master each style and improve your capacity to use it effectively
  2. Secondly we try to ensure that you really understand how powerful each style can be and what it can be used for – this is one reason why we think it is important to experience the style as a client as well as try it as a consultant.
  3. Finally we try to make sure you get a chance to use the range of styles in a natural way so that you learn to select a style to meet the needs of your client.

Consultants, Clients and Intervention

Throughout this text and our seminars – the word consultant is used to denote the person who is consciously attempting to help while the word client is used for the person or persons being helped. The act of helping is described by the word intervention.

We believe that the same principles apply whatever you are called in the process of helping and therefore that the use of the styles is relevant whatever the titles and roles of the people involved.

1 – Making Entry

Essentially making entry is about those things we do to enable others to trust us enough to move from behaviour that is designed to “ make an impression” to more honest and direct communication.

What we know is that it is entirely natural for human beings to be very pre-occupied with how other people think and feel about them.This means that we tend to behave in an instrumental way saying things or behaving in ways that we think will make the other person accept us.

To be skilled in making entry is to be able to go through this process quickly and in a very friendly way in order to enable people to be able to talk about important and potentially sensitive things without difficulty. We know this is important because otherwise there is a great danger of real issues being dodged or concealed and then real work and real assistance becomes impossible.

Essentially the process of making entry involves sharing all sorts of information about yourself with the other person in a way they can show they accept. At the same time being open to things the other person communicates to encourage them to feel that communication is safe and will prove to be without negative consequence or judgement.

What is making entry?

  • Exchange of information – both through verbal and non-verbal meansF
  • inding points of connection/similarity/common views/common culture
  • Creating open-ness and interest in each other – primarily by being open and interested
  • Respecting people’s boundaries and encouraging them to be open by making clear that it is safe to do so,

Making Entry is an activity which requires focus and skill. We also use the term as a description of a state as in – I have good entry with him – meaning that a relationship of trust and open-ness has been created.

The concept is useful in establishing and keeping to the forefront of our minds the reality that sustained influence is unlikely in a relationship lacking in trust because we will be too concerned to act in defensive or self-protective ways.

2 – Contracting

Once entry is established we know that establishing in dialogue our mutual expectations, wants and needs is a vital step in creating the possibility of real influence.

The principle is that a person or a group is much more likely to agree to a process or an action if it has been openly discussed with them. Real ownership of an intention to act will be greatly enhanced if there has been encouragement to play a part in establishing that intention and working out a mutually agreed set of intentions.

Contracting is in our view involves both surfacing of pre-existing goals and norms and the creation together of mutually created expressions of those things.

Clarity in contracting also provides a reference point to return to when things have progressed and allows us to check if we have managed to stick to our intentions or perhaps to discover that now our intentions have changed in some way.

Put simply a contract is a set of ideas about what we are aiming for, how we are going to get there and what we can expect from each other in the process.

Once we have such an agreement we may still face difficulties, but they are difficulties on a mutually agreed journey rather than just a mismatch of unspoken expectations which comes out in the wash of experience.


3 – Acceptant Style

Assumptions & Intentions
This style helps the client gain sense of personal security and builds up a trusting relationship with the consultant. The key to an acceptant approach is aiding the client through sympathetic listening and empathic support in concentrating on feelings. It allows and helps the client to clear what is blocking their ability to deal logically and rationally with their problem. The assumption made is that the client will be able to go forward once they get in touch with and accept how they feel about the problem.


  • Open non-threatening body posture
  • Direct non-oppressive eye contact
  • Smiling and nodding acceptance of client’s account of their situation
  • Positive para-verbal signals to encourage the client to say more
  • Understanding problem from clients’ point of view and communicating
  • Understanding by paraphrasing / summarising
  • Encouraging client to express both thoughts and feelings
  • Picking up on feeling words and reflecting them back – gives clients permission to explore feeling further
  • Listening for descriptive phrases that mask feelings and giving clients an opportunity to explore their feelings further
  • Allowing silence without filling it
  • Not taking sides / trying to solve problem
  • Leave the client to diagnose and solve ( or not solve) the problem
  • Try to listen to what is said and also what is not said but is expressed in other ways.


  • Strong feelings may be difficult for the consultant to deal with
  • Client may feel overwhelmed and feel embarrassed / powerless
  • Client may wish to share feelings in inappropriate settings / context as well as in appropriate ones.


  • A necessary style to use when feelings and emotions are an important component of the problem
  • Benefits clients who have strong feelings about something but are not sufficiently aware of what they feel.
  • Assists clients to “move on” from feelings so that they can think creatively about their situation

4 – Catalytic Style

Assumptions and intentions

This style assists the client to collect information they already have about the problem but may not be aware of. The aim of using the style is to change his or her perception of how things are, in order to arrive at a better awareness of the problem and how to handle it. When used in a groups setting the overall aim is to accelerate the rate of change in the system.
The assumptions we make when using the style are that the client has both sufficient data and sufficient mental capacity to move to a solution which they create themselves. What is needed is another person to act as a catalyst that helps them get access to and organise the information that they already have in their memory.
The assumption is made in using this style that the client knows more about the problem than we do and that our aims should specifically not include coming to a complete understanding ourselves of the client’s problem or situation.
We using this style we also need to value the idea that the client must own the solution in order to feel empowered to act.


  • Open non-threatening body posture
  • Direct non-oppressive eye contact
  • Attentive listening and confirmation of understanding both verbal and non-verbal
  • Use of open questions to encourage clients to describe situation
  • Consultant does not add information or advice of their own
  • Acceptance of the clients’ perspective as legitimate starting point – non-judgemental position taken by consultant
  • Focused listening and questioning skills (who, what, where ,when , how)
  • Feedback and summarise what client has said periodically and then wait for client to choose a direction
  • Categorise the data which the client has presented in summary form (so you have found out 3 things x, y and z)
  • Support and encourage as client changes the view they have of problem – go with the client and don’t steer
  • Leave finding a solution to the client – trust that they will find what they need.


  • Low risk style – used by consultants 80% of time
  • Client may not have sufficient data
  • If client is resistant and selective about the data he/she presents thencatalytic style won’t help
  • Consultant may get overwhelmed by data – can’t understand it, gets toomuch of it, identifies too much with the problem
  • Client gets irritated by being asked all these questions – feels that the consultant is being intrusive.


  • To empower clients and make them feel that they are in control and have capacity to solve their own problems
  • Good for helping clients reformulate and redefine their problem
  • Essential in working with people from other disciplines / departments
  • Essential in coaching and mentoring relationships
  • Essential in managerial relationships if dependency is to be avoided
  • Excellent tool for facilitating groups / teams

5 – Confrontational style

The main assumption we make in using the style is that we can help the client by pointing out any lack of consistency we see between what they say they do and what they actually do. Our intention in doing this is to help the client break a pattern of cyclical behaviour, which they have found difficult to shift despite their best intentions.
The style is not used aggressively although it may induce a certain degree of conflict or disagreement. It is important that our intention in using the style is to help and empower the client to act differently or change their intention.
Most people wish to match their stated intentions and their actual behaviour and when our “ blind eye” fails to see that inconsistency ourselves we need the help of someone else to point it out to us. As soon as this is done by a consultant using this style – our resistance is in the open and we are free to face it and move on. The importance of confrontational style lies in it’s value in opening up people’s perception of themselves.


  • Consultant prepares well – identifies and intention and some behaviour to contrast
  • Consultant presents the confrontation in gentle and un-aggressive manner
  • Consultant then waits attentively for clients’ reaction to confrontation
  • Usually you need to be prepared to shift into another style to work with client after confronting them – acceptant if strong feelings, catalytic if seeking a solution, prescriptive if client is completely at a loss!
  • Have to be ready to react correctly if confrontation is rejected – either –revisit facts, or back-off gracefully.
  • Never allow an argument to develop – if client refuses to accept aconfrontation – accept their right to resist your intervention.



  • Client may reject the consultant – (more often a fantasy of the consultant than a reality)
  • Client may challenge the observations of the consultant which is a test of the accuracy of the consultant’s observations
  • Client may deny the intentions that the consultant has described
  • Client may get in touch with strong feelings as a result of the
  • Client may be left not knowing what to do to change unless he/she is helped with other styles


  • When client keeps making the same mistakes without noticing the pattern
  • To help client to face an aspect of reality that he/she is avoiding
  • To help client work on their values, beliefs and behaviours
  • To develop better leadership behaviour
  • To encourage people to take contracts and agreements about values
  • To build a culture in which people are more reliable and behave with
    greater integrity

6 – Prescriptive Style

Assumptions and intentions

A consultant working prescriptively listens to the client’s problem, collects the data he or she requires, makes sense of it from their own experience and presents the client with a solution or a set of recommendations to solve the problem. This works better with some people than others.

The assumption made is that the client cannot make an accurate diagnosis and solution of their own because they lack one or more of the following:

  • Skill
  • Knowledge
  • Objectivity
  • Time

The intention of the consultant in acting prescriptively is to remain entirely in expert mode and not trust the capacity of the client to solve their own problem at all. The responsibility of finding an adequate solution remains entirely in the hands of the consultant. The role of the client is simply to explain the problem as fully as possible and then to implement the recommended course of action as precisely as they can.
It is essential that clients actively engage with the consultant and their prescriptions as otherwise there is a high chance that in many cases the advice will be rejected. Consultants must assume that it is their responsibility to achieve such engagement.


  • Strictly professional approach
  • Essential to engage the client actively in receiving the prescription
  • The consultant must do everything to convince the client that they are in safe hands and can trust the advice they give
  • The consultant must be sure that their expertise is appropriate and sufficient to solve the problem presented
  • Must be careful to get the client to explain the problem in sufficient detailthat a good solution can be defined
  • Must check that the client understands the solution and has the capacity to implement it correctly
  • Must explain the solution and the advice in clear and unambiguous terms and check that the client understands fully


  • The client becomes dependent on being given advice to solve problems in the future – gets addicted to quick fix
  • The consultant doesn’t fully understand the context and gets the advice wrong
  • The client wasn’t listening / interested – consultant may or may not notice this!
  • Client doesn’t have the capacity or motivation to implement the advice correctly
  • Client is resistant to the solution because they didn’t devise it
  • Prescriptions don’t often involve alternatives so if it doesn’t work – client has no other options


  • When time is short – in emergencies, when people are working at capacity
  • When people have low intellectual capacity or insufficient expertise and it is not important to develop their problem-solving ability
  • When consultants wish to be perceived as indispensable
  • When applying and enforcing standard operating procedures
  • To make people feel safe and cared for when they feel vulnerable and incapable
  • To efficiently apply genuinely unique technical expertise / knowledge

7 – Feedback

We know that as social beings it is important for us to know what people around us are thinking and feeling both about us as people and about our actions and what we do.
Offering such information to those we have contact with is what we call feedback and we know that it is a powerful tool which helps people raise their self-esteem, have greater confidence and boosts motivation.

It also provides helpful stimulation through “another pair of eyes” to see what the effect of our actions is and therefore helps us develop skill and insight into what works.
Learning how to give effective feedback is therefore a really important skill for any leader, adviser or professional helper.

In order to do it well we need to be able to distinguish it from two other actions we are sometimes called on to carry out in organisations.

The first is making clear judgements about what is or is not effective. This we believe is also sometimes required but is unlikely to empower as it essentially always takes place in the context of a power relationship between the person judged who is implicitly inferior and the person who is making the judgement who implicitly claims superiority. This will also apply to those situations in which the judgement is against specified criteria which simply depersonalises the power relationship.

This does not mean that judgement cannot be cognitively helpful in assisting someone learn – but only recognises that this will only be the case when the power relationship is accepted by both sides.

Our approach to feedback as defined above is therefore to regard it as most powerful when it is offered in a personal, subjective way and with good heart – i.e. the intention to help. It will always be more useful when it is given in a situation where there is a good entry and where at least implicitly there is agreement to honest and helpful two way exchange of information in support of professional an personal development.

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