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Vol. 1, No. 3
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Your Leadership Style is Your Own, But You Must Use Different Tactics Under Different Circumstances

By William Cohen

While the tactics a leader may use to influence others is in theory unlimited, there are eight fundamental tactics that a leader may use in any situation to influence those he or she is attempting to lead, regardless of the leader’s style. These are:

  1. Direction
  2. Persuasion
  3. Negotiation
  4. Involvement
  5. Indirection
  6. Enlistment
  7. Redirection
  8. Repudiation

The Direction Tactic

Similar to a directive style, the direction tactic is authoritarian. The difference is that leaders who do not normally practice leadership with a directive style can use it. The leader simply gives orders and tells others what to do. There are two situations where simply giving orders without discussion is desirable. However, to employ the direction tactic, the leader must have more power in the situation than those led. Attempting to use this tactic  without this power will almost always lead to failure.

The first situation where the leader may want to use direction is where there is little time for using the other tactics. If someone on a production line is about to cause a major accident by mixing two dangerous chemicals, his supervisor doesn’t hesitate, but orders: “Put that stuff down, NOW!”

The second situation when a leader should use direction is when the action needed is good for the organization, but may be less desirable as perceived by the employee. The leader needs a report typed by tomorrow morning, but his or her secretary has social plans for tonight. While the leader can try other influence tactics first, eventually it may come down to using direction.

Unfortunately, the direction tactic is sometimes overused. One reason is probably the popular image of the effective leader who runs around barking orders, and everyone else simply falls into line and obeys. As Dwight D. Eisenhower advised: “You do not lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership.”

Another reason that the direction influence tactic is overused is that once a leader begins using it routinely, it becomes habit. If the leader has hire and fire authority, It’s almost too easy. The leader doesn’t have to think about those led at all. He or see simply issues an order.

Unfortunately, routinely using direction can have unwanted results as the leader may no longer get input from those led. “Fine,” say the leader’s followers, “If that so and so wants us to do this and everything gets screwed up, it’s not our fault.” Mistakes that the leader makes that others might have caught are allowed to go on uncorrected. The organization suffers, yet everyone goes about following orders to the letter.

The Persuasion Tactic

With persuasion, the leader influences others explaining the reasons and convincing others that what the leader wants is the right thing to do. Persuasion can work very well when leading others who have similar or more power in the situation than the leader has. This is especially true when the leader has minimal means of rewards or punishment.

What means can the leader use to implement the persuasion tactic? One way is to convince through logic. Simply give the person you want to lead good reasons why he or she should do what you want. Everyone wants to know why the leader wants him or her to take a certain action. Giving reasons why has an important fringe benefit. When the situation changes and the leader isn’t available to give new instructions, this person knows what the leader is trying to do. He or she can alter their actions based on why the leader wanted the actions taken in the first place.

Another way of utilizing the persuasion tactic is for the leader to emphasize his or her personal need or the worthiness of the cause.

Many college-age door-to-door salespeople emphasize personal needs: a sales award, money for college, or experience in real business. All of these are examples of persuasion by emphasizing personal need. They are used because they work.

The Negotiation Tactic

Another important influence tactic is negotiation. Negotiation means that the leader influences by conferring with others to arrive at a settlement which both the leader and those led find acceptable. It may involve compromise or exchanging something that the other person wants or wants done for what the leader wants done.

Negotiation may be required under certain circumstances. Do the leaders desires offer little or no perceived benefit to the person or persons led? Do the leader and those led have about equal power? Can both sides help or hurt each other almost equally? If these are the existing conditions, the negotiation influence tactic may be the most effective for that situation.

George Washington gave us a successful demonstration of the negotiation tactic in a battle that was important in winning American Independence. By the summer of 1781, the French and American allies realized that the British strength was divided into two strongholds centered at New York and the Chesapeake Bay area.  Combined, these British forces were stronger than the allied American-French force. But the combined allied force was stronger than either British force if either one was faced separately. If the two British forces could be cut off from each other they could be defeated individually.

The French had a strong fleet in the area of the West Indies under the command of Admiral Francois de Grasse. However, the hurricane season started in late summer and grew progressively worse in the fall. De Grasse did not want to risk his fleet in these storms.

Washington’s original plans called for defeating the British in the Chesapeake Bay area, and then moving south for an attack on Charleston or the British base at Wilmington. He got De Grasse to support him by the negotiating tactic. He told Admiral De Grasse that if he came north, he could return by mid-October.

On August 30th, De Grasse’s fleet arrived off Yorktown, Virginia. He also brought reinforcements and siege artillery. More importantly, he took command of the sea and isolated the British forces under Lord Cornwallis. Six weeks later Cornwallis surrendered. The Battle of Yorktown is known as the decisive battle of the War of Independence. Based on the battle’s results, the British opened peace negotiations the following spring.

The Involvement Tactic

If the leader can get others involved in what is wanted, they will adopt the leader’s goal as theirs and become committed to its attainment. Because of this, involvement is a very powerful influence tactic, and can usually be combined fairly easily with one or more of the other tactics.

Why is involvement so important? One dimension is ownership. We work and fight much harder for things that are our own. Involving people succeeds because it gives those you need ownership.

In his book, Pour Your Heart Into It, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (1997) says, “If I hang my hat on one thing that makes Starbucks stand out above other companies, it would be the introduction of ‘bean stock.’ With it we turned every employee of Starbucks into a partner.” Schultz goes on to say that privately held companies such as Starbucks was at the time didn’t have employee stock plans. But continues Schultz, “My goal was to link shareholder value with long-term rewards for our employees. I wanted them to have a chance to share in the benefits of growth, and to make clear the connection between their contributions and the growing value of the company.

The Indirection Tactic

The indirection influence tactic is used when the leader’s authority is limited in the situation and those led will resist a direct influence tactic. With the indirection tactic, the leader gets others to do what is required by not asking directly for the action desired, but by doing something else which will get others to do what the leader desires.

After the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army had not yet disbanded and Congress was slow in authorizing back pay that was owed. The righting of various other wrongs had been frequently promised by the Continental Congress, but never delivered.

The Continental Army officers knew that George Washington, would never go along with seizing power from the civilian authority no matter how just the cause. They asked him anyway. They wanted to march on Congress, and give Washington the title of “King or Dictator.” This was wrong, it was treason, and he told them so, but they wouldn’t listen. Moreover, he was no longer their commander, and so had no formal power over them. These officers had a meeting to organize what amounted to a rebellion. Washington attended the meeting. He hoped to dissuade them, and they actually let him speak. Among them were many of the heroes of the revolution: Alexander Hamilton, Henry Knox, and “Light Horse” Harry Lee. Washington tried to persuade them to give up their plans of rebellion  to no avail. These officers were determined to take the law into their own hands!

Finally, Washington reached into his cloak and pulled out a pair of spectacles. No one had ever seen Washington with spectacles before. In the thinking of those days, it was the kind of physical weakness that commanders didn’t admit to. As he slowly put the glasses to his face, he said: “Gentlemen, I have grown old in your service and now I am growing blind.”

Washington turned and left. At first there was only silence. Then, somebody said, “Maybe we should give Congress one more chance.” The rebellion never took place.

Washington’s officers didn’t know that he had worn spectacles for years. Even his closest aides didn’t know that he wore glasses. Washington judged that the loss of his vanity and the risk of his prestige in opposing this treason was a worthwhile price to pay for an America free from a military dictatorship. He used the indirection tactic to get what he wanted after other tactics failed.

The Enlistment Tactic

With the enlistment tactic, the leader just asks. It works in situations where the leader doesn’t have the power, or may have the power, but may not want to use it. Professor Langer at Harvard looked at the motivation one person used in getting others to do things. She found that frequently the logic for persuading does not need to be perfect. The person doing the persuading only has to give a reason for wanting the action performed.

During one study, it was discovered that many people would allow someone to cut ahead of them in a line to make copies on an office copier if a reason were given. The reason did not even need to be compelling. The person had only to say: “Can I go ahead of you because I have to make copies?”  Just using the word “because” and giving a reason was apparently itself sufficiently persuasive. What the reason was wasn’t particularly important.

The Redirection Tactic

The leader using redirection doesn’t want to reveal the real reason for the action he or she wants done. The leader wants to redirect those he or she leads because if this does not occur it will have a negative impact of one kind or another.

Let’s say there are two organizations whose offices are located right next to each other. The members of these organizations are constantly bickering. The fact that they are located so close to one another allows increased opportunity for hostile contact. The leader decides to separate the two offices. Rather than the actual reason for the relocation, “efficiency,” or “better space utilization” is the official reason.

Redirection is also used when firing senior managers. Senior executives are rarely officially fired. Rather, they are “given new assignments.”

This is a perfectly legitimate tactic with many advantages. The organization preserves the feelings of the fired executive to the maximum degree possible. The leader shows others that people are important. The leader doesn’t  just throw people aside like old shoes when they fail. Also, an individual unsuitable for one job may do a superior job at a different time and at a different place somewhere else.

The Repudiation Tactic

In using the repudiation tactic, the leader gets someone to do something by disclaiming his or her own ability or power to do it. An analyst goes to his supervisor and asks for help in doing some problem. “Gee, I’d like to help,” the supervisor says, “but I haven’t worked this type of analysis in quite a long time. How would you approach it? Why don’t you start out. Maybe I’ll remember a little.”

 So the analyst begins to work the analysis. Whenever he gets stuck, his leader gets him going again. The supervisor used the repudiation strategy to get the analyst to learn to solve the problem and to do the job at the same time.

Leaders may use the repudiation tactic to lead other leaders at their own levels. Instead of competing in an area that the other leader does better, the good leader disclaims his own ability and in doing so gets his colleague to do what he wants. “Joe you’re the best softball coach the company team ever had. I’m going to recommend that you be named the coach this year again.”

When to Use One Tactic Over Another

There is a time and place for all of the influence tactics. If a leader has one tactic that he or she relies on almost all the time, it is almost certain to develop into a pattern or behavior, in other words a style. This negates the very purpose of the tactics.

The leader’s selection of a particular tactic in a situation will depend on:

  • the individual personality of the person or persons led
  • the frame of mind of the person or persons led
  • the leader’s own current frame of mind
  • the leader’s goals or objectives
  • the relative power between the leader and those led
  • the importance of time in the action the leader wants taken
  • the type of commitment required to complete the desired action
  • rules, laws, or authority of the leader in the situation

Certain tactics tend to work better than others as the situation changes. A new company or organization is formed. The leader emphasizes attracting qualified people. This requires persuasion tactics. As the organization grows, team building and the exchange of ideas become more important. Involvement tactics are used more frequently. Now the organizational units are formed and the biggest question is how the work should be divided. This requires negotiation. Once the company is into production, tasks are more routine, but time is critical. This calls for more direction. Throughout, indirection, enlistment, redirection, and repudiation may be used. The tactics and when to use them are summarized in the table.

The astute leader has all of the tactics in his or her repertoire and will choose them as carefully as an expert golfer chooses a club.  The leader’s ability to do this frequently spells the difference between success and failure, so choose wisely!













Of Followers






Significant on Agreement




Leader can Reward and Punish

Little or None

Little or None

Little or None

Little or None

You have or can Help with Something Followers Want

Little or None

Little or None


Your Goals and Followers Not Identical

Your Goals and Followers Not Identical

Your Goals and Followers Not Identical

Your Goals Cannot Be Attained without Followers Help

Your Goals Cannot Be Attained without Followers Help

Your Primary Goal and Followers Not the Same and is Independent

Your Goals and Buyers are Interdependent

Your Primary Goal and Followers Not the Same and is Independent


You Have More than Followers

Unimportant, but Tactic More Effective When You Have More


Relatively Unimportant

Relatively Unimportant

About Equal

Relatively Unimportant, but Best if at Least Equal

About Equal



Best if Little or None


Delay Hurts You More

Delay Hurts You More


Best if Little or None

Best if Little or None

ã Copyright 1999 by William A. Cohen


This article was taken from James Boulgarides and William A. Cohen, “Leadership Style vs. Leadership Tactics”, Journal of Applied Management and Enrepreneurship (Spring 2001, Vol. 6, No. 1pp. 59-73).