We next consider the phenomenon of “reciprocal maintenance.” What this means, quite simply, is that people feel obligated to do things for those who have done things for them. You are inluenced to give something to someone who shows a willingness to give something irst to you. The very best technical salespeople know this. I know agricultural chemicals technical salespeople who have made it their practice to send detailed weather forecasts to farmers on a regular basis, along with all kinds of similar useful items that relect the values and needs of their customers. These are often small, proactive service gifts that help farmers do their work. This effort bears fruit many times over
in the form of increased sales. It is the same for aspiring leaders – if you want to inluence people, start by giving them something they value highly.
The irst thing that may come to mind when I say “give something to someone” is a tangible material reward, such as bonus pay or some other monetary reward. Those sorts of things can be well intended – indeed, they can be valuable – but they are unlikely to have a lasting impact. So offer those things for the right reasons, while also recognizing their downsides: they have at best a short-term impact and can result in awkward expectations. Strangely enough, reciprocal maintenance works best when the exchange is long on work value and short on dollar value.
High-performing leaders know that the best possible strategic gift they can make to their followers is simply this: an appealing future state. Instead of material goods, these leaders offer a future state that their followers will want. This is far more powerful than monetary gifts or other instant gratiications. These followers are being offered a more appealing future than they could have imagined on their own, along with direction on how to achieve that state. And that is a gift of enormous consequences. It is also a lasting gift. In return – and this is where reciprocal maintenance comes into play – the leaders asks their followers to work with them to implement that future state so that everyone will beneit. In this way, a contract has been made between the leaders and the followers: those who are willing to follow their leaders' direction will receive in return a better life as well as the opportunity to work with others who are similarly prepared to follow.
People tend to be conformists – that is, to do whatever they see other people doing. Examples of this are legion, in fashion, in music, and in politics. Stand on a busy street corner sometime in a conspicuous spot and look up. Soon enough, other people will start to gather around you and, yes, look up with you.
That experiment illustrates a supericial outcome practised by those who are looking for quick, short-term inluence. A less competent leader may rely solely on charisma to get people to follow. But after people have “looked up” and seen nothing of substance – after they have seen nothing that will meet their personal needs – that sort of leader's inluence over them soon vanishes.
The very best leaders are competent, thoughtful, and systematic, much like the best engineers and scientists. They have ideas that other people ind appealing enough to accept. Most people want to think – they want their minds to be challenged and to offer and receive big ideas. The most
inluential leaders are the ones who are willing to engage others in seeking forward-looking ideas for positive change. People know when their capacity to think creatively is being respected and when their leader is open to their ideas. They ind it gratifying when they encounter a leader like this and will in turn be more open to accept their leader's thinking.