The aim of this essay is to critically evaluate whether leaders can ethically utilise the weapon of influence in order to affect others. The weapons used to be employed to influence people or gain compliance (Muscanell, 2014). Firstly, a review of the principle upon which the six weapons of power are based will be conducted. Moreover, it will be asserted that leaders can use the weapons in an ethical way; To support this argument, the case of Michael Hyatt will be examined placing particular emphasis on the application of authority and social proof within a marketing context. Nonetheless, the weapon of influence could also be applied by leaders in a manipulative way; In order to support this thesis, Jordan Belfort’s case will be analysed highlighting the implementation of authority and social proof in the marketing area.

Main body

In order to discuss the scientific basis which underlie the six weapons of influence, a review of ethological studies will be conducted. Specifically, the behaviour of turkey mothers towards their younglings will be reviewed. Turkey mothers tend to be protective with respect to their children. Nonetheless, studies revealed that their mothering instinct is enabled by a “cheep-cheep” sound of their offspring. In case a chick would not make this sound, the mother will disregard or even kill it (Cialdini, 2013). Further experiments highlighted the radical reliance of turkey mothers upon this particular sound. Fox in his experiment describes that the turkey mothers would take care of a stuffed model of its natural enemy, in case it would produce the “cheep-cheep” sound through a recorder. Interestingly though, if the machine was turned off, the stuffed model would have been attacked (Cialdini, 2013). Ethologists described this behaviour as not being unique to the turkey species. Indeed, instinctive patterns of actions were identified in an extensive variety of species including humans. Those patterns are called fixed-action patterns and comprise different successions of behaviours that are carried out in a stereotypical way after being induced by a so-called “releaser”. Human mechanical patterns of behaviour have been recognised and demonstrated in an experiment conducted by Langer. The psychologist argued that people want to have a reason for their actions. In his experiment, Langer asked a small favour to people waiting in line to use a copying machine. The expert noticed that people tend to let her skip the line more often when the word “because” was placed in the sentence. As the “cheep-cheep” sound of the turkeys’ offspring resulted in an instinctive mothering response by the turkeys’ mother, the word “because” provoked an instinctive concession with the Langer’s subjects. (Cialdini, 2013)

Therefore, upon the base of actions/words that can trigger mechanical patterns of behaviour, Cialdini recognised the six weapons of influence represented by reciprocation, consistency, social proof, Liking, Authority and Scarcity.

Ethical Application of the Weapons

Leaders can ethically utilise the weapons of influence to promote effectiveness. Cialdini emphasised the positive side of persuasion related to leaders who use ethically the weapon of influence (Cialdini, 2013). In order to analyse some practical applications of the weapons of influence represented by authority and social proof in the marketing area, a review of Michael Hyatt’s leadership styles and backgrounds will be conducted.

Hyatt adopted a charismatic leadership approach with confidence, communication with his followers and an innovative vision as the main characteristics of his leadership (Wilson, 2020) (Hyatt, 2020). Hyatt was CEO of a publishing company and owner of a social media platform that grew in visitors due to the application of certain weapons of influence. These have been applied with the future aim of increasing Hyatt’s book sales. Namely, we will discuss the ethical application of authority and social proof in Hyatt’s social media platforms through expert power.

Authority can be defined as the moral or legal right or ability to control (Cambridge Dictionary, 2020). This norm is based upon the fact that people used to refer to the recommendation of authorities and experts in order to decide how to better behave (Cialdini & Goldstain, 2002) The scientific basis concerning this pattern of behaviour is available in the appendix ( appendix 1).

Hyatt ethical application of this weapon of influence within its social media platform can be illustrated through different pieces of evidence (appendix 2). Firstly, Hyatt specified his expertise by placing his brand slogan described as “Helping Leaders Leverage Influence”, underneath his name logo. As a consequence, visitors would recognise that Hyatt aimed to help leaders. This is enhanced by the identification of 5 personal development’s categories represented by Leadership, Platform, Publishing, Productivity and Resources. This piece of expertise translates in a shortcut for the visitors’ decision making (Ronkin, 2014).  Secondly, Hyatt displayed in his webpage a graphic called “As featured in” which included all the media channels’ logos on which he was featured. These logos comprised corporations as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Thirdly, Hyatt proposed a successful “about me” page, which was declared by the author as one of the top-ten most visited pages (Hyatt, 2020) On this page the writer introduced his credentials, comprising his roles as CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers as well as his “New York Times bestseller” recognition (Ronkin, 2014). This is Hyatt’s most evident play in order to be pictured as an authority. Moreover, the about me page does not only provide information regarding his expertise, but it also concerns the writer’s interests and his family, all of which are used to acknowledge the visitors of similarities between them and the writer, which promote liking (Dooley, 2012). As argued by Cialdini, the weapons of influence often work together with one another in order to create a more powerful persuasive outcome (Cialdini & Goldstain, 2002). Fourthly, Hyatt created an area displaying its speaking engagement. It has the consequence of strengthening his credibility and authority as communicator. Lastly, on the homepage sidebar, the writer uploaded interviews conducted with leadership experts in business. This suggested to the public that Hyatt would cooperate with experts, boosting his reliability (Ronkin, 2014).

Social proof can be defined as: “the influence that actions and attitudes of people around us have on others’ behaviour”. The element represented by “proof” is the idea that if other people are doing or saying it, it must be correct  (Wigmore, 2017). The scientific bases concerning this weapon of influence are available in the appendix (appendix 3); here, we are going to examine Hyatt’s ethical application of social proof within his social media platform through various examples.

Firstly, the writer effectively displayed the social media and subscriber counts. Showing his social media metrics visitors can be influenced to join as well. Data reported a total number of subscribers equal to 414,114 on July 14, 2014. This number is clearly visible on the home page (Appendix 2). This characteristic provides visitors with instant feedback by thousands of other people who are interested in the webpage contents. Secondly, Hyatt placed a share bar at the top and at the bottom of all posts. The share bar offered an easy and fast way for users/visitors to share the content to further audience. Additionally, he showed the exact numbers of posts’ shares and comments (Ronkin, 2014). These two social proofs can be characterised as significant as they are system-generated cues, which are generated by users’ behaviour rather than being generated by the platform’s owner. Data indicate that people tend to establish impressions of users’ attractiveness on social media in accordance with the number of friends or followers they have (Bacev-Giles, 2017). Thirdly, Michael Hyatt displayed a list of community members in the home page. The list presents a short biography and a picture of seven members of the platform who have agreed to provide leadership to the community. Furthermore, the writer proposed a list of bookmarks which comprise links to some of the writer’s favourite blogs and other resources (Ronkin, 2014).

Unethical Application of the Weapons

Leaving aside the example of Hyatt, other leaders could employ the weapon of influence as a method of manipulation. Indeed, it is recognised that people can easily utilise the weapons in a manipulative way or even abuse them (Cialdini, 2013). In order to analyse the unethical applications of the weapons of influence represented by authority and social proof in the marketing area, an examination of Jordan Belford’s leadership styles and backgrounds will be undertaken.

Belfort was a former Wall Street trader who was accused of crimes concerning stock market manipulation. Belfort’s life was summarised and adapted in the movie “The Wolf of Wall street”, which had Leonardo DiCaprio as leading actor. Recently, Belfort reinvented himself as motivational speaker (Reiff, 2020).  Jordan Belfort also implemented a charismatic leadership approach as he had unique attention-capturing and persuasion skills (Almeida, 2019). Belfort’s behaviour however strongly suggests that there are correlations with “the dark side of leadership” in which leaders advance their own interests at a terrible cost for their followers (Tourish, 2013). Moreover, it will be reviewed the unethical application authority and social proof within Belfort’ website through the use of expert and referent power.

Authority can be used by leaders in unethical ways. To an extent, Jordan Belfort’s manipulative application of this weapon of influence can be seen in his website (Appendix 4). To advertise his services, Belfort shared a video recorded by Leonardo DiCaprio, in which the actor stated that “Jordan has a unique ability to train and empower young entrepreneurs” (Belfort, 2021)  This represents a clear instance of authority used in an unethical way, as the website owner is using the authoritative figure of DiCaprio in order to boost his business’ sales. This clearly parallels Cialdini’s argument that people tend to refer to authority figures when deciding how to behave (Cialdini & Goldstain, 2002). Moreover, referring to the French and Raven power taxonomy, referent power has been applied as visitors could comply with Belfort’s request by identifying themselves with DiCaprio (Elias, 2008).

As it was the case with authority, the norm of social proof too can be utilised in an unethical way. Jordan Belfort’s application of social proof can be illustrated by two different examples present in its website (Appendix 4). The previously mentioned DiCaprio’s advertisement provides visitors a fast-positive feedback regarding the services that Belford is offering. Contrarily to Hyatt, who provided social proof based over users’ experience, Belfort provided proof of his quality service through an advertisement that was most probably purchased. Therefore, this behaviour can be considered as unethical. A further example can be found on the testimonial section of Belfort’s websites.  Within this section, a representative of JP Financial claimed that the company increased its revenue by 18 % after using  Belfort’s services (Belfort, 2021). Unfortunately, however, this company is known for implementing elaborated scamming schemes (Anon., 2021); Therefore, representative’s statements could be strongly criticised. As the social proof norm is based on the fact that people look to others regarding how to behave and think (Cialdini & Goldstain, 2002), it can be deducted that Belford abused social proof with the aim of manipulating customers’ behaviour. Lastly, social proof has been applied as through expert power as Belfort relied upon the superior knowledge of the JP Financial representative and DiCaprio with the aim of increase its sales (Elias, 2008)


Finally, the scientific basis regarding the six weapons of influence have been drawn from ethological studies. Those studies identified specific patterns of behaviour of the animal species. Consequently, in further experiments, fixed-action patterns have been proved to exist in humans. Upon this base, Cialdini recognised the six weapons of influence represented by reciprocation, consistency, social proof, Liking, Authority and Scarcity. Furthermore, it has been argued that leaders can utilise ethically the weapon of influence. To provide an example within the marketing area the case of Michael Hyatt has been reviewed. Specifically, it was conducted an analysis of the application of authority and social proof concerning Hyatt’s social platform. Evidences regarding the ethical application of authority are represented by the brand slogan and different categories, the media channel logos on which the writer has featured and the “about me” page. Whilst, indications of the ethical application of social proof are illustrated by the Social Media and Subscriber Counts, the share bar-related the blog’s posts and by the list of community members. Leaving aside the example of Hyatt, it has been argued that other leaders could use the weapon of influence to manipulate customers’ behaviour. In order to analyse the unethical application of authority and social proof in the marketing area, the case of Belfort has been highlighted. To an extent, the implementation of authority and social proof has been examined within Belfort’s website. The Evidence regarding the manipulative use of authority is displayed by DiCaprio’s advertisement. Moreover, indications concerning the abuse of the social proof weapon is illustrated also by DiCaprio advertisement and a testimonial video.

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