Six Sources of Influence — Source 2 Personal Ability

Maggie Sun
4 min readJun 19


The Six Sources of Influence framework introduced by the inspiring book “Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change” highlights six key areas to bring about rapid, profound, sustainable behavioral change in individuals and organizations.

This article sheds light on the second source of influence.

Personal Ability: help them do what they can’t.

To embrace any form of change, people need not only motivation but also the ability to do what it takes to realize the change. Companies often send their managers to intense trainings that deluge them with theories, models, and case studies, but too often they can’t practice these skills in actual work because knowing the training content and doing it are two different things. That’s why influencers always invest in strategies that not only motivate people but also help them develop the ability to put their knowledge into practice.

Much of will is skill.

Before anything else, people need to overcome the fixed mindset that makes them believe that they are not born with “the right stuff” to be a leader or a proficient public speaker, or to shed those extra 50 pounds of weight. The truth is that much of the “hardwired genetic characteristics or traits” such as “will” or “self-control” is a learnable skill. For instance, in an experiment where a group of kids exposed to a mash mallow were told that they could either have the mash mallow right away or wait for five minutes to have two, most kids ate away immediately; however, when an adult demonstrated to the kids how to delay gratification by putting their heads down for a nap or engaging in some distracting activity, all the kids followed suit and were thus rewarded by two mash mallows instead of one.

Improve performance through deliberate practice:

Prowess is not a matter of genetic gifts. People who climb to the top of just about any field — physical skills such as skating or mastering the violin, and interpersonal skills such as how to motivate team members to improve their work or how to get along with coworkers — outdo their peers through deliberate practice, i.e., carefully guided practice. For example, skaters who spend the same amount of time on ice achieve different results mostly because they practice in different ways: Olympic level skaters work on skills they have yet to master; club skaters work on skills they’ve already mastered; and amateurs spend half of their time at the rink chatting with each other. In business world, people bite their tongues for fear of being penalized when their boss states a half-baked, even stupid idea; good ideas out of common employees remain a secret; and teams accept bad decisions made by senior members … all because speaking up with confidence, especially to an authority figure, requires skill, and skill requires guided practice.

Deliberate practice requires full attention for brief intervals while receiving frequent feedback against a clear standard. For example, no elite musician or athlete can achieve excellency without fully focused practice, and they rarely exceed five hours’ practice a day to maintain a high level of concentration. In the field of education, many teachers believe that tests are painful experiences that should be given as infrequently as possible so as not to discourage students, but research reveals that one of the vital behaviors for effective teachers is extremely short intervals between teaching and testing, which makes testing no longer a dreaded event but a helpful tool for students to see how well they are progressing. In the domain of medical care, a 20-year-veteran surgeon is not likely to be any more skilled than a 5-year novice by virtue of time on the job, as the difference between the two has nothing to do with experience and everything to do with deliberate practice — surgeons who receive detailed feedback against a known standard develop far more rapidly than those who practice their same old methods over and over again. While tenacity is always required, time is not the critical factor for mastery — it is the skill of practice that allows us to reach perfection.

Build confidence through frequent positive feedback coupled with small goals:

To encourage people to attempt something they fear, we must offer rapid positive feedback that builds their confidence by providing them with short-term, specific, easy and low-stakes goals that specify the exact required steps. In other words, take complex tasks and make them simple, long tasks and make them short, vague tasks and make them specific, and high-stakes tasks and make them risk free. That’s the principle of agile way of working.

Prepare for setbacks to build resilience:

When people learn to deal with setbacks, they can understand that effort, persistence, and resiliency are eventually rewarded with success. Consequently, the practice regime should gradually introduce tasks that require increased effort and persistence. As learners overcome more difficult tasks and recover from intermittent defeats, they see that setbacks aren’t permanent roadblocks but perfect opportunities for them to improve and advance toward ultimate brilliance.


Grenny, J., Patterson, K., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2013, May 17). Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change (2nd ed.). McGraw Hill.

Collet, B. (2022, Dec. 13). To Succeed in Change and Transformation, Uncover Why People Behave the Way They Do. Agile Leader Academy.

Related articles and book:

Agile Leadership Explained: We Can All Be Agile Leaders and Change the World Together! (Kobo)

Agile Leadership Explained: We Can All Be Agile Leaders and Change the World Together! (Amazon)

Collet, B. (2019). Agile leadership. (Online course).



Maggie Sun

MBA, certified agile coach and experienced strategy analyst, specializing in business agility, agile leadership, Beyond Budgeting, and general management.