Influence Mapping (Part 2)

This is Part 2 in a three-part series on influence mapping. In Part 1 we went over how to create the map. In this post we will cover how to work the map to evolve the influence landscape. In Part 3 we will look at some more examples and summarize the principles covered in this series. If you have not read Part 1, go here first.


In the late 1970s, President Ford sought to thwart rising USSR and Cuban influence in Southern Africa. Cuba was pouring troops into the area surrounding Rhodesia, a white minority rule country Ian Smith had declared independent of British rule in 1965. Facing increasing pressure for black majority rule, Smith defiantly responded, “not in a thousand years.” Enter controversial figure Henry Kissinger.

Kissinger’s strategy was to increase African unity against outside influence of any kind, whether that be white minority rule…or Marxism. But to do this he had to deal with Rhodesia and Ian Smith. Leaders of neighboring countries feared a bloodbath was inevitable. For years the British had failed to successfully negotiate with Smith. Borrowing a term from Part 1 of this series, they were committing the Sir Galahad Fallacy, waiting until they sat down with Smith to make their case to him the best they could.

Kissinger instead focused on moves prior to any formal meeting, aimed at cumulatively pressuring Smith into altering his position. As quoted in the amazing book, Kissinger the Negotiator, when asked in 1976 whether he would also sit down with Smith, Kissinger replied, “I have no present plans to meet with Mr. Smith and this would depend entirely on assurance that a successful outcome of the negotiations will occur.”

Kissinger developed an influence strategy leveraging the leaders of frontline nations, moderate African leaders, British diplomacy, and pressure exerted from South Africa, which he would iteratively revise as he learned his way forward, ending with Smith moving from declaring there wouldn’t be black majority rule in a thousand years to agreeing it would happen within two.

The Middlegame

In this series I cover my approach to influence mapping, which I adapted from Joel DeLuca’s excellent book, Political Savvy. We are using the analogy of a game of chess. General principles are bolded throughout. In Part 1 we covered the opening game. This required you to think about, list, categorize, and position key players, resulting in an initial influence map representing your first best guess of “the lay of the land.” This helps create clarity as to what next steps should be. The middlegame, covered here, is where you work your map to evolve the landscape in support of the decision you would like to have made.

You cannot purposefully leverage a dynamic you are not aware of. Creating the map required you to think about and visualize the dynamics at play. Working your map enables you to leverage the dynamics at play. As discussed last time, facts don’t influence, relationships do. To quote one of my mentors, Michael Grinder, “By modifying our own behaviors we create our own success through relationships. And in so doing we influence the groups in which we participate” (from his book, Charisma, italics added).  

To influence a particular decision, any decision, you need to learn whom the decision maker (the “D”) tends to listen to, whom these people in turn tend to listen to, and so on and so forth. This is Grinder’s concept of “permission,” of one person’s level of receptivity to another’s influence. (Recall from last time, permission is not the same thing as rapport.) In the influence map this is represented by the width of the relationship arrows.

In the map above, for instance, there are only two high-permission paths to Bogdan, the D. One is Anushka. The other is the group of Mary, Paul, and Olga. They, you believe, also tend to listen to Anushka, forming a triangle. You don’t have high permission with any of them. Nadia does, however, and she also tends to listen to John, whom you already know is in favor of the decision you would like to have made.

This suggests the first step of having John meet with Nadia on your behalf. If John is successful with Nadia, then you could have her meet with Anushka one-on-one. Alternatively, you could have Nadia introduce you and John to Anushka and then set up a meeting with the four of you. Ultimately, you should do whichever you think is most likely to produce the desired outcome.

Nadia may have a better sense of which might go over better here and so should be involved in planning the next step. Let’s say all four of you meet and Anushka is on board with the decision. You then send her and Nadia to meet with Mary, Paul, and Olga. Mary and Olga say they will support the decision in question, enabling you to set up a meeting with Bogdan, Anushka, Nadia, Mary, and Olga, leveraging their combined wide paths to the D. This gets us into the endgame, which will be covered more in the next post.


Notice how different this is from what we usually do. If you’re like me, normally you would get on the D’s calendar and spend your time crafting the “perfect presentation.” As discussed in Part 1, this risks committing the Sir Galahad Fallacy. Presenting to staff, to senior leaders, to the D, risks ignoring whatever hidden dynamic is at play. It ignores, as DeLuca points out, that higher-ups often have their own “mini-culture” surrounding such presentations, where certain personalities are essentially “holding court.” Often you will never learn what people really thought of your presentation, as ideas are often praised just to signal moving on from them.

Agreeing to present in this way poses a similar risk to consultants agreeing to pitch—you’re already giving much of your influence away! As discussed in April Mills’ book, Change Tactics, the time invested perfecting a plan is waste if you cannot also bring the right people along. As she puts it, the sophistication of any plan will typically be downgraded to the maturity level of senior leadership. You may have spent a lot of time refining your own thinking, but the D’s thinking is probably still at that initial level. (We’ll talk more about this in Part 3.)

Instead, as illustrated by the Kissinger story above, it is better to focus on “away-from-the-table” moves that set the stage prior to any meeting with the D. The principle here is to instead broker the right conversations in order to iterate the map. Since meetings are largely the medium of influence, it pays to be strategic about them. The effect of any series of meetings in part depends on their sequencing. Every meeting you hold adds new information, corrects where assumptions might have been off, and indicates logical next steps. This both alters the map and creates new options. In the present example, for instance, just look at how different the map looks after only three strategic meetings!

In considering how best to proceed, it can be helpful to consider the quadrants of the influence map, as shown below. You are likely in the lower right quadrant. The D is probably at the upper middle or upper left. To start working your map, you will typically start by enlisting people in the bottom right to help grow a coalition of support in the top right. In other words, do not go after the most influential people first.

As you talk to people, some might immediately express support for the decision in question. That’s great. Mark them as “Coalition” on your map. Others won’t be so easy. As our initial map above illustrates, you won’t always be the right person to do the influencing that needs to be done. That’s fine. Leverage your network’s network. Use the map to find the right people for the right meetings. Look for the high-permission paths forward and send emissaries to increase permission.

As you meet with people, be Socratic. Don’t argue. As DeLuca stresses, resist the temptation to “score points” in a debate. Scoring points costs you goodwill. (To quote Dale Carnegie, “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.”) In each meeting, learn about the other person. What is their agenda? What are they experiencing that they would like to change? What are the underlying issues they are facing?

Discuss what they haven’t had a chance to in other meetings. If there is a proverbial elephant in the room, name it! (As the old Italian saying goes, “Put the fish on the table.” If it stays hidden, then it will stink.) Sometimes just calling something out that validates what others are experiencing will be enough to get them on board. I find the table below helpful, adapted from Andrew Sobel’s Power Questions.

Mine for common cause. In general, the more you dig into a different stakeholders’ underlying needs, the more commonalities you will unearth. This is valuable information! Find areas where the other person’s issues can be linked to yours, creating a larger, collaborative agenda you will both support. Invite people to add their own ideas. Bake these into the combined agenda.

Grow coalition around a collaborative agenda. Share the credit for this larger, collaborative agenda. (As Harry Truman once put it, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”) This increases buy-in. It helps you avoid the Sir Galahad Fallacy. It also improves the quality of your original plan by incorporating multiparty insights. After enlisting the bottom right of the above matrix to grow sufficient top-right coalition, you will then leverage the top right to go after the top left.

Get others advocating on your behalf. In general, the more people you right-shift the more high-permission paths forward there will be. Ask people to advocate for the combined agenda in their own meetings and report back to you. What they report can then also be used to update your map. Once people are added to the Coalition on your map, quote them in subsequent meetings.

The more you quote others and the more they separately advocate for the combined agenda, the more you amplify your impact and the more you avoid the issue of contamination, which we’ll discuss in Part 3.

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