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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Grobman

Soft power strategies can help you gain influence without having formal authority

One of the biggest misconception about power is that it requires formal authority. And perhaps even physical strength. Yet, Stuart Diamond, an award-winning negotiations professor and author of Getting More writes: "When you have less power, you learn to use tools that are more subtle, less noticeable, even invisible to those with raw power. There is less risk of retaliation." According to Harvard's Joseph S. Nye, "Hard power can rest on inducements ('carrots') or threats ('sticks')."

The downside of raw (hard) power is that it can be expensive (by requiring a lot of constant effort to coerce and control) and that it isn't self-reinforcing in the long term. For many women, more often than not, using hard power is just not an option, either because they don't occupy leadership roles or because exhibiting power directly can cause rejection. This doesn't mean that they cannot be extremely influential nevertheless. Nye, who coined the term "Soft Power", defines it as "getting others to want the outcomes that you want—co-opts people rather than coerces them." Nye explains that "soft power rests on the ability to shape the preferences of others. In the business world, smart executives know that leadership is not just a matter of issuing commands, but also involves leading by example and attracting others to do what you want." Wharton Professor, Cade Massey, outlined several of the soft power strategies during my latest visit to campus:

  • Building coalitions by obtaining the support of key people

  • Intentionality - focusing people around a common goal, avoiding distractions

  • Networking - cultivating a broad set of informal relationships (access to information and resources)

Diamond also adds that although women comprise only 30% of his negotiations students, they get a much higher percentage of the top grades. Subtler tools are more effective: women listen more and collect more information which in turn, leads to better persuasion and better results. One of the key objectives of my Influence Masterclass is to help women realize the power that they already have and use it strategically to further their professional goals. Perhaps, this way, I can make a little dent in the gender gap in leadership.​

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