Strategic influence was originally a concept from military and geopolitical strategy, referring to a nation's ability to affect the policy decisions of other nations and organizations through control of information. The term has been borrowed by the business community to describe the ability of an individual, department or company to influence the decisions of others. Strategic influence is interpersonal power.

Military and Political Usage

In its original sense, strategic influence is the subtle influence a nation exerts over other nations or organizations such as paramilitary groups through the use of coordinated information campaigns and propaganda. For example, one of the strategic goals of the United States in the War on Terror is to send a message to nations and groups that might be inclined to support terrorism, communicating the benevolence of American intentions and the power of American military might simultaneously. The purpose of this message is to encourage cooperation with American interests by communicating both the benefits of doing so and the potential consequences of not doing so. The term is used in a similar way in the business world.

Business Usage

Strategic influence in business is the ability to convince other people in your department to implement your ideas. It is also the ability to convince other departments in your company to adopt the suggestions of your department, or to influence other companies to take actions favorable to your company. Strategic influence is built on relationships between people, but just as in military strategy there is both a positive and a negative side to strategic influence. Influence strategies can appeal to the other party's self-interest or altruism or fear of negative consequences or all of the above.

Influence Strategies

You can achieve strategic influence by appealing to the other party's sense of reason through facts and logic, by appealing to moral values, by making the other party a partner in your enterprise, by doing something positive for the other party to create a positive attitude toward you and your proposal, through a straightforward trade of favors, by appealing to personal friendship or loyalty, by exerting any established authority you may have or through pressure. Often, strategic influence comes from a combination of several strategies. For example, you could convince a colleague in your department that your idea is logically sound and ethical, but also that you have the ability to further his own ideas if he assists you and to block them if he does not.

Issues With Strategic Influence

Strategic influence often includes both an implied threat of some kind and an appeal to the other party's sense of values, altruism or friendship. This contradiction is a built-in weakness of any deliberate attempt to use influence strategies, which many people see as Machiavellian and unethical. If you are trying to convince someone else that you are the good guy, any use of implied pressure undercuts your argument. If you appeal to a coworker's personal friendship while also implying that you could interfere with his career if you wanted to, your coworker is not very likely to keep thinking of you as a friend. On the other hand, no one can realistically afford to ignore strategic influence, since the lack of strategic influence is the lack of power over your own future. The best long-term approach to strategic influence is also the most ethical. Emphasize personal relationships and values to the greatest extent possible, and use pressure as sparingly as possible and only against direct threats to your own well-being. For example, if you build up a network of truly loyal friends and colleagues at work, then your strategic influence should be more than strong enough to overcome any attempt to use influence strategies to undercut you.