John Neffinger – Compelling People: The two secrets to massive influence 

“It is better to be feared than loved, if one cannot be both” Niccolo Macchiavelli, Italian philosopher.

As a leader – which would you rather be? For all of us that question brings up different triggers, the desire to be liked, the fear of being seen as a push over. The pain of watching our plans dissolve because we were obviously not compelling enough – in that moment – to as my next guest would describe ‘bend the world to meet our will’.

So what if I told you that you can be both. In fact, what if I told you that the most charismatic, influential and inspirational people in our world are always both. 

Everyone wants to know how to be more influential – it’s the entire focus of this podcast. But most of us don’t really think we can have the kind of magnetism or charisma that we associate with someone like Bill Clinton or Oprah Winfrey unless it comes naturally. 

My next guest – John Neffinger believes that this isn’t something we have to be born with, it’s something we can learn. 

In his excellent book ‘Compelling People – co-authored with XX – They trace the path to influence through a balance of strength and warmth. Each seems simple, but only a few of us figure out the tricky task of projecting both at once. Drawing on cutting-edge social science research as well as their own work with Fortune 500 executives, Presidential candidates, TED speakers and Nobel Prize winners, Compelling People explains how we size each other up – and how we can learn to win the admiration, respect, and affection we desire. 

In this episode we unpack:

  • Why words like chemistry and “charisma” are unhelpful. In short because they give us the impression that you either have it or you don’t – and they aren’t just tools that can be learned
  • The two critical criteria when it comes to being a compelling force as a leader: strength and warmth. And why EVERY single one of our social judgements are based on those two aspects.
  • Managing the dance – cold and warm – what comes first – and how the most charismatic, influential and inspirational people in our world are the ones that move continually and deliberately between those two places.
  • His experience working with Hillary Clinton to prepare for her first debates with Donald Trump – you all remember that one. Knowing what happened, how would he prep her now?
  • How to deal with interruptions – and yep you guessed it – why the Biden / Trump debate was an ideal case study on how to deal with vocal force.
  • And why the job of President is not just to run the country. The job of President is to lead the country. Which means giving voice to people’s sentiments and telling the story of what comes next.

If there’s one thing I’d love you to reflect on while you listen to this conversation – it’s the concept of ‘the tilt’. That your role as a leader – positional or not – is not necessarily to bend the world to meet your will – or to fold at the bendings of other people. It’s stay centered, get still, take a moment if you need to – and feel into what’s out of balance. Then, use the power of your will and intention to tilt back the scales.

On that note, sit back, stride out – pull out the protein bar for those who are still on a NY detox – and soak up the lessons from the front lines of persuasion from the incredible – John Neffinger.

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