Six Sources of Influence — Source 3 Social Motivation

Maggie Sun
5 min readJun 21


The Six Sources of Influence framework instituted by the book “Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change” gives insight into critical elements that facilitate change at personal, social, and structural levels.

This article focuses on the third source of influence.

Social Motivation: provide encouragement.

The persuasive power of our social networks is an unparalleled and readily available source of influence. The praise and derision, inclusion and rejection, endorsement and disapproval of our peers can either assist or doom our change endeavors more than anything else.

Three best practices for influencers across the world to provide social motivation:

1. Lead the way:

When you invite people to change, they begin to inspect your credibility and evaluate your every move to decide whether to trust and follow you. If your behaviors appear equivocal, they rarely give you the benefit of the doubt since people’s interpretation of others’ behavior is often biased by their inclination to confirm their existing mistrust. Therefore, to encourage them to change, you must demonstrate your clear, unambiguous credibility and sincerity by generating incontrovertible evidence that you believe in what you say. In fact, to harness the formidable power of social support, sometimes all it takes is to identify — or preferably, be — the one respected individual who exemplifies the new and healthier vital behaviors.

Take, for instance, a CEO who invited people to give him suggestions on how to become more “approachable.” When one employee showed his willingness to help, the CEO took it seriously and arranged a private meeting with the employee. Subsequently, he disseminated an e-mail detailing the feedback he received and promised to implement a couple of changes that he hoped would make him more approachable. He then followed through with actions proving that he was as good as his word. The CEO demonstrated his genuine support of candid behavior by rewarding the person who had taken the risk to be honest and making personal changes to show his commitment. This resulted in a remarkable increase in open and honest communication among employees, which helped the company solve a lot more problems with unprecedented success.

2. Engage formal and opinion leaders:

Opinion leaders transcend the realm of formal leadership. They are far more influential than others in inspiring people to adopt novel ideas and behaviors. In large organizations, opinion leaders are employees who are most admired and connected. Simply ask people to make a list of the employees who they believe are the most respected and impactful, and the most frequently mentioned names in the lists will pinpoint the opinion leaders.

It’s crucial to find opinion leaders to get the majority of any population to adopt a vital behavior. The first people to latch on a new idea are “innovators.” They are open to novelty and smarter than average, but their embracement of a new idea can only kill the idea because they are regarded as abnormal weirdos who are the opposite to behavior models. The second group to try an innovation are called “early adopters,” who are the “opinion leaders” that change agents chase after. Representing about 13.5 percent of the population, they are also open to new ideas and smarter than average people. But unlike “innovators,” they enjoy enormous influence as they are socially connected and well respected. In fact, the rest of the population will not adopt the new behavior until opinion leaders do.

For example, in 1965, to improve health practices in the far-flung rural regions of China, Mao Zedong solicited help from local opinion leaders. They were members of the villages with a slightly above average education, recommended by their peers and committed to serving the people. These “barefoot doctors” received just a few months of medical training, covering basic preventive practices. They also learned how to treat the most common maladies while referring more difficult cases to commune hospitals. Thanks to these on-the-ground opinion leaders, health related habits in rural villages, such as observing basic hygiene and boiling water, improved overnight and the rate of disease decreased dramatically in a matter of months.

3. Create new norms:

one of the greatest barriers to any change project lies in unhealthy norms. “Compliance is normal.” It’s essential to create a new sense of normal in order to enable change. There are two methods to create new norms:

1). Make the undiscussable discussable:

Unhealthy norms are always perpetuated by a culture of silence. This code of silence that can be found in every sector of business and government must be shattered so that people can discuss the norm before they transform it and embrace change. For example, in a renowned academic hospital, most doctors were focused on learning about diseases but cared little about treating patients, and yet no one would acknowledge it in public. To enhance patient care quality, leaders there collected 50 patients’ horror stories and presented them to the chief medical officer, who, after three hours’ reading, became emotionally overwhelmed. The next day, the stories were shared, read and studied. What had been formally only murmured was now openly debated. As the officer broke the code of silence, her formerly complacent organization took the first step toward change.

2). Create 200 percent accountability:

Creating new norms requires an environment in which everyone is responsible not just to encourage the right behavior, but to confront the bad behavior. For example, in Delancey Street, almost all its employees — ex-cons who used to be thieves, prostitutes, robbers, murderers, gang members, drug addicts, alcoholics, or homeless people — have earned degrees, become professionals, and changed their lives. A key factor contributing to this magical achievement is that all employees understand that they are not 100 percent but 200 percent accountable for their personal and organizational success by supporting and challenging each other with unrelenting waves of social praise and social punishment from day one. Powered by incessant feedback from their peers, both positive and negative, 90 percent of Delancey employees stick with the changes they’ve made for the rest of their lives.


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.