3 Smart Reasons to Empower Instead of Influence

There has been a lot of talk lately about influence – because of the Fast Company Influence Project and a HubSpot-sponsored program with a similar name.  Insights from these projects address how we influence others online and the myriad theories behind how to do it effectively.  There is even a contest to see who is actually (a point of contention) the most influential person online today.

As an experienced leader and someone who had been led by others many times in the past please allow me to posit the following:

Isn’t it much more effective and personally rewarding to focus on empowering others rather than trying deliberately to influence them?

I think so.  Here are 3 reasons why…

1. Influence is an expression of your power whereas empowerment invokes someone else’s power.  Influence is an expression of your ability to accomplish or achieve something through someone else.  Perhaps as a marketer you influence someone to buy something.  As a leader you influence someone to follow your vision.  The benefit of this influence is limited in time and space.

Empowering someone else invokes them to express their power.  If you empower someone to become a brand advocate, or to be part of a team that develops the company vision, then the expression of that power is unlimited in time and space. 

Why? Because when you genuinely empower someone you allow them to bring the full force of their brilliance and creativity to the table. The end result of this can be infinitely greater than what would have come to be if they’d simply allowed themselves to be influenced by you…

I think about my own experience with the EnVision Recycling Program that I shared with youOur team created a program infinitely more valuable to our company because we were empowered to think big.  If we had been influenced by the C-Suite to follow a particular path we would not have been nearly as successful.

2. Being empowered is an invitation to allow your passion to exude – being influenced is not.  We all know we work harder and more purposefully when we’re passionate about something.  What’s the impact of this?

I had the sincere honor of being invited to attend last week’s Brains On Fire FIRE Sessions down in Greenville, SC, where the topic of passion was freely discussed.  (After all, FIRE and passion go together beautifully, which is one reason the Brains On Fire movement is so vastly inspiring).

As Geno Church shared – as chronicled here by Mack Collier – when teens who were passionate about stopping teen smoking realized they were empowered to do something about it through the Rage Against the Haze movement, they took ownership of the movement.  Not only did this ownership provide the will to make a significant impact on the rate of teen smoking, for many of the teens this empowerment and ownership changed their life. 

To put an exclamation point on this, Geno stated that when looking for teens to be part of the movement they looked for teens with passion rather than influence – because influence could be made but passion can’t.

Cultivating empowered owners of a movement – whose passion was allowed to exude and to propel them – was vastly more impactful than trying to influence with advertising or standard marketing models.

3.  According to Steve Knox, CEO of Proctor and Gamble’s WOM Unit Tremor (who presented at the FIRE Sessions), they have not been able – with 10 years of research – to find any proof that influentials exist. 

Rather, what they’ve found is that for those who have a seemingly higher rate of conversion (getting others to do something/buy something) the reality is that they talk to more people.  These so-called “influentials” are actually “connectors” – people with wide and deep social networks. When you factor in that they talk to more people you discover that they have the very same rate of conversion as others!  He termed these folks “Trend Spreaders” – rather than “Trend Setters.”

So, if you have customers that fit into this “connectors” category, wouldn’t it be more impactful to empower these people to become brand advocates rather than trying to simply influence them?  After all, advocates will exude that passion discussed earlier, they will then win the hearts and minds of other customers, and as Steve said – chronicled in this post on trusted advocacy by Mack Collier…”advocates beget advocates.” 

Just think of the power you’d be harnessing…!

What do you think? Do these reasons resonate with you – and are there other reasons to empower rather than influence? Let’s chat about it in the comments…

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Photo is “Empowered” by Search Engine People Blog


  1. Every time I hear the word “influence” or any derivation thereof, I want to bang my head against the nearest wall.

    The word influence connotes words “brainwashing” and “weak-minded.”

    I realize I am taking this to the extreme but hey, that’s me… extreme… (sometimes)

    Influence always conjures up forcing someone to do something, you know?

    People don’t realize that as you empower someone you are also influencing them at the same time only people don’t know you are influencing them because they feel empowered!

    Great post!
    Steve O

    • Steve,

      Well, I can certainly understand where you’re coming from and why those words might show up for you. For me it’s not so much a desire to bang my head against the wall as it is a lack of desire to do what someone is trying to influence me to do…

      Perhaps it’s because you and I (and virtually everyone reading this blog) are leaders and we like to own our own power? But yes, I agree with you, empowering others is still a form of influence, but a very positive form of it. It’s got trust at the core – trust that the person can create or do something truly amazing without our control – and that trust is a very positive and beautiful thing.

      Thank you so much for sharing your feelings on this so vividly – I really appreciate it!

  2. When you “empower” rather than “influence” you allow someone to enter a trance of their own making rather than one created by you. We are more likely to eventually resent a trance imposed by someone else.

    Our egos are also moved to a healthier place when we think of ourselves as empowering rather than influencing – even if the result ends up the same.
    Hans Hageman´s last blog post ..Schools Need A New Idea – Start All Over Again!

    • Hans,

      I always love your insights – you’re right, our egos certainly end up in a better place if we think we’ve empowered someone. Do you think that’s a bad thing…?

      And are you implying that you think that the end results are the same? I personally don’t think they’re even close – but I’d love to get your perspective on that.

  3. Excellent blog. “Influence” is a strong word normally associated with control. Not a positive meaning from a marketing perspective in a social media world. The concept of “Empowerment” fits so well in this new model. Connecting, spreading the word, providing something of value. Great post! Cool photo, too!


    • Thank you, Mark!

      It’s interesting to read from others the degree to which they perceive “control” in the word “influence.” I think that’s a very important concept for marketers to understand, don’t you?

      And I love how you talk about empowerment as a new model – I think that’s what Steve Knox was really driving home in his presentation. Advocacy marketing as the new model…

      Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts, Mark!

  4. Lisa I love this discussion because I agree that the idea of trying to ‘influence’ others is so misplaced. Years ago I read a post by Kathy Sierra that asked ‘What superpower will you give your users?’. That reframes the entire conversation from being ‘How can we influence people to do what we want?’ to ‘How can we empower people to do what THEY want?’

    The latter carries with it the obvious issue of losing control, but when you transfer ownership to the people you are trying to connect with, their passion will always outstrip any measure of ‘influence’ that you believe can be used on them.
    mack collier´s last blog post ..Blogchat schedule for August

    • Mack,

      What a great question from Kathy! I’ve never thought of it that way…it’s empowerment and a gift all at the same time. I love that…

      And I agree with your word “misplaced” in regard to influence. Influence *can* be a positive thing in the right context, but in the marketing arena, and particularly online marketing arena, you’re right – it’s become misplaced.

      I think the transfer of ownership that you’re referring to is a very difficult concept to embrace for executives who “grew up” never considering such a thing – and I love how the Brains on Fire team has written a road map designed to help marketers understand the power of this path! Seems you and I are both pretty passionate BOF evangelists because of the power they’re unleashing from their clients’ customers…!

      Kudos to you for writing three thorough summary posts on the FIRE Sessions that give others a very vivid and insightful picture of what we were able to experience in person! Readers can find all three at http://www.brainsonfire.com/blog/.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Mack – it always means a lot to me. :)

  5. Hi Lisa,

    It isn’t a far stretch from influence to manipulation. What happens when the people you “influence” start feeling manipulated? People become enamored with others and stay that way until they out-grow the influence. But, when you empower them, they remember how you helped them grow.

    Keep up the good work with your thoughtful posts.
    Debra Ellis´s last blog post ..Are Companies Missing Their Opportunity to Connect with Customers

    • Debra,

      What an inspiring way to think about empowerment – that people will remember how you helped them grow. I think that’s so true at the core and yet we rarely express that, right?

      Thank you for all of your support – you’ve been here with me from the very beginning and that means the world to me!

    • Debra, EXACTLY! And I would venture a guess that a lot some folks look at their influence as a means to manipulate (not always conscientiously or negatively, BTW). And those pitching them are hoping influence leads to manipulation (buy this, don’t buy that, donate to this…, etc.).

      I am with Lisa…if I know you are trying to influence me, I will go in the opposite direction. I ignore 100% of the pitch emails, tweets and Facebook notes I get. Now, empower me to do something and I will go 100 miles per hour in a positive direction.

      Not sharing any insights here, just my two cents.

      Great post Lisa!

      Beth Harte
      Serengeti Communications

      • Beth,

        LOL at your “not sharing any insights here” comment…! :)

        What you’re saying has huge ramifications for marketers and agencies. I think it’s part of the reason that working with the Brains on Fire team and listening to Steve Knox talk about “advocacy marketing” (which Mack did a great job of summarizing here: http://www.brainsonfire.com/blog/index.php/2010/07/30/fire-sessions-recap-part-2-steve-knox-on-trusted-advocacy-and-how-it-will-change-marketing/) feels genuinely refreshing and “right” to me.

        I think it’s an exciting time to be a marketer… :)

        • Beth and Lisa,

          It is a great time to be a marketer. I love participating in the one-to-one marketing that social media allows. You get better insights and feedback.

          Thank you for adding to my comment. I learn from both of you on a regular basis.

        • Lisa, it’s definitely a great time to be a marketer! People-to-people communications (versus corp-to-people) has never been more important…especially with the current economy. Humanizing an organization is key to stronger relationships.

          But the fact remains that even in pitching journalists, it’s always been smart to build a relationship with them. Having a relationship means you don’t have to pitch. You already have established a trusted, dare I say, “influence” on the journalist. If you go after a journalist or blogger (or anyone for that matter) without having a relationship it doesn’t matter what *their* level of influence is because you won’t be budging them to do anything.

          Thanks for the BoF link…a huge fan of the team there.

          Beth Harte´s last blog post ..Hello world!

          • Beth,

            I’d love to chat with you sometime about how to convey the importance of humanizing the organization to the senior-most execs, many of whom – for whatever reason – seem to think of anything “relationship oriented” as “social media” and meant for lower levels of the organization. I’m baffled by this and would love to help CMOs better understand its importance.

            And ultimately, as you mention with journalists, you are trying to accomplish something specific “through them” – so in that case influence is still needed. But as you mention, the relationship makes it a positive exchange and not a negative one.

            Thanks for sharing your awesome insights… :)

  6. Lisa…Fascinating post. Years ago, when I was involved in public policy, I read John Kotter’s “Power and Influence” and resolved that I wanted the role of influencer to those in power. After reading your post and reflecting on the more satisfying projects I participated in, I’m convinced that my satisfaction derived from empowering the power people – elected officials and senior appointees – to make sound decisions. In my current role as a career coach, empowering clients to chart the course of their desires, continues to feed my satisfaction. Thanks for these thoughts.

    ~ Scott

    • Scott,

      Thanks so much for letting me know that the post resonated with you and even made you look back – I am truly touched by that!

      And as someone who has been fascinated by politics throughout my adult life (minor in poli-sci) and has considered career coaching at some point in my future, I’d love the opportunity to chat with you someday!

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and share… :)

  7. You know me my friend..here is my first visual while reading your post. Knights of the Round Table with King Arthur. Is that wrong? Marketing styles to me has similarities to various governmental leadership approaches (this is not a political comment). My point is there are numerous approaches to marketing a brand, but the end result on a consumer is what echoes how that decision was made. Great job!
    Jonathan Saar´s last blog post ..Open Your Coconut in the Multifamily Industry

    • Jonathan,

      First of all, that is one impressive train of thought to end up in Camelot! Secondly, you can’t bring up King Arthur without *my* train of thought going to Lancelot and Guinevere – but I digress…

      Are you implying that empowerment is like Arthur in the struggle of good v. evil? If so, I think that’s brilliant…

      I think your insight about the end result on the consumer reflecting how the decision was made is really perceptive. If I feel in any way influenced – and if I perceive that negatively – then will my experience as a consumer be negative, or at a minimum less positive, because of that? And we could have an hours-long discussion about the impact of influence in politics and our leaders’ messages – someday we’ll have to do that because I’d relish the conversation!

      Thank you for sharing your visual and insights, Jonathan – you always make my brain cells percolate! :)

  8. Lisa,
    So much great conversation going on here with Mack, Debra, Beth and others.

    I was struck by your observation: ‘I’d love to chat with you sometime about how to convey the importance of humanizing the organization to the senior-most execs, many of whom – for whatever reason – seem to think of anything “relationship oriented” as “social media” and meant for lower levels of the organization. I’m baffled by this and would love to help CMOs better understand its importance.’

    I am wondering if what you are observing is senior-execs who have very high IQs but stunted EQs. I am thinking of Daniel Goleman’s work “Working with Emotional Intelligence.” I still have my original copy of his book. I used to keep it in my office when I was employed by large corporations, I would refer to it when I found myself working with a superior, peer, or subordinate who struggled with any of the four key elements:
    •social awareness
    •relationship management

    I really believe that those who have grown their EQs feel free to empower others. They look at it as a gift to help others grow and as they grow…so grows the business. Everyone wins.

    Talk to you soon.

    • Hi Judy!

      I don’t think that’s what is happening specifically in regard to what I mentioned to Beth, but I absolutely agree, I think it does take a strong EQ to be comfortable and effective at empowering others. I think it goes back to letting go of control – which Mack mentioned – and that is incredibly difficult for many managers. And I specifically said “managers” because that’s how I view people who cannot let go of control. I really don’t view them as leaders – but would love to get others’ thoughts on that… Perhaps that’s for another post…? :)

      In regard to my comment to Beth, I think that there is actually a generational effect here. The challenge is for those who are old enough to be affected by it but young enough to still be running companies for a number of years – how to help them work through their concerns about “being social” and understand the value to their companies of connecting to their customers as people.

      Does that make sense? Thanks for bringing the EQ insight into this discussion – it’s a very good one!

      • Lisa,
        Totally understand where you are coming from and the importance of leaders vs managers. When you speak oft working through their concerns about “being social” are you referring to the current sense of “social media”? Or do they struggle with just being “social” period and therefore have trouble interacting within social networks? I guess, in either case, they are not really going to enjoy their careers and potentially they will impact the company and others’ careers.

        It is getting late. So enjoy learning from you.
        Judy Helfand´s last blog post ..A wedding gift for the Presidents daughter

  9. Lisa, I found my way here through Robin Good and I just want to thank you for such a clear articulation of the truth!

    All you’ve said here rings soooooo true for me in my experience and I’m delighted to find a sister speaking what’s in my heart, too.

    Rave on! Your honesty empowers and emboldens me!
    Meri Walker´s last blog post ..Worried about how to increase the reach of your business Grow your income Enrich relationships with friends and family

    • Meri,

      What a tremendous compliment – thank you so much! I’m beyond honored to find another soul sister! So glad you made your way to me via Robin…hope to see you back here often! All my very best… Lisa

  10. I think influence and empowerment go hand in hand, where each person passes the torch of knowledge, information and resources through engaging and connecting on social media and social communities. We’re all experiencing major changes and nobody has all the answers. Things are moving so rapidly we frequently don’t even have the questions! Yes there are people who are out in front but even they will admit that a major catalyst of their own growth is that they learn from the reinvention of those who their teaching empowers. I know it’s corny to say that “no man is an island” but it really applies here.

    • Jan,

      Thank you so much for stopping by and for taking the time to comment – it really means a lot to me.

      I love how you say we don’t have all the questions – you are so right. And your comment here – there are people who are out in front but even they will admit that a major catalyst of their own growth is that they learn from the reinvention of those who their teaching empowers – is brilliantly insightful!

      Thank you again – so glad to have you here. :)

  11. In my opinion (and experience), empowering someone to become a brand advocate is the most effective form of marketing (if you classify it as such) that you can do! And empowered community will drive sales and support on your behalf! They rave about you naturally and they step in when others have questions. Ya know?

  12. When you take a rock, paint it, engrave it with an inspirational quote, package it, and pitch it to the buyer as a motivational paper weight, underneath the cosmetic enhancements…it’s still a rock. Seems to me, the leadership gurus, business elect, and “powers- that-be” have taken influence, reconstituted its image, and pitched it to the buyers as this revolutionary expansion that promotes the parceling of positive power…but it looks an awful lot like influence masquerading as empowerment. Last I checked, Bruce Wayne is still Batman?

    Not sold on empowerment’s inherently unique benefits.

    I love this thought provoking post.

    Reggie´s last blog post ..Empowerment Edemame


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