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The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.
― Kenneth H. Blanchard
In your never-ending quest to become the best leader you can be, you need to relentlessly seek new ways to ascend to the next level. But how you influence others along the way has an enormous impact on your ability to climb the ladder of success. How can you use your power and influence to create a level of support
around you that will further both your success… and the organizations?
Throughout history leadership has been critical to performance, to success… and to the greater good. Power in the workplace has traditionally been defined as force, dominance, aggression, strength, and authority. Observations could lead you to conclude that only the most powerful make it to the top and that in order to that level you must bring into play perceived force, dominance, aggression, and strength. Not true…
Today, it is far more critical to understand and leverage the dynamics of influence within power. Learning the art of influence as a tool for positively impacting your surroundings and facilitating the achievement of goals will take you far. Influence is about getting things done in the real world – where politics and personalities often seem to hinder rather than help you. Influence makes things happen, despite the obstacles that might stand in your way. Your implicit theories and feelings about power and influence have a profound impact on how you perceive problems and opportunities, and subsequently, how you decide upon a particular course of action. To develop a realistic point of view, you must become aware of and test your assumptions about power and influence. Here are three resources to help you:
Reflect upon your results across these self-assessments and how they relate to your current ability to influence across the organization. Constantly strive to be someone who understands the limitations inherent in power and choose to view your leadership role (explicit or implicit) as one of influence. Influence is simply a derivative of power – one that can be wielded more easily and with greater effect than brute power. I am not talking about simple charisma – I am referring to being the kind of leader who can sit down, engage and get buy-in… a leader who can take the authority of the position and use it to work with others to get things done. My favorite management quote from Ronald Reagan was, “Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority and don’t interfere.”
As a leader, you must have a solid base of power. Leverage that base in the form of influence — the loyalty of your teams, the confidence of your boss, strong customer relationships and the trust of your peers — to create an organization that reflects your influence across People, Process, Policy and Programs. It is not an easy climb to the top, but if you do nothing else, you must enable a base of influence from which to place your ladder.
Self-awareness is an important skill for leadership, and the most self-aware realize that the confidence they have in their own knowledge and abilities has to be measured against a humility to know that we are all accountable to someone we must influence: boards, managers, employees, customers, investors, etc. Knowing to whom you are accountable (and thus who you need to influence), developing that buy-in and leveraging it to make enlightened, effective decisions is the formula that drives influential leadership. It has countless advantages, but gaining that influence, like learning a skill, takes time and effort. Fortunately, there are many strategies you can use to cultivate this characteristic – here are just a few:
- Invite Trust
Influence is most often and most easily commuted through trust. Only when someone trusts you will s/he be open to your influence. If you’re in a leadership position (formal or informal) it’s possible to convey a demand or assign a task that must be carried out by your employees, but true influence suggests free will. If you assign the same task but don’t have higher authority, would your employee still listen to you and believe that the task is necessary to execute? If you want healthy and influential working relationships, you must invite trust. The easiest way to do that is to be open and honest – no matter what. State your opinion, openly disclose your own apprehensions and don’t keep secrets… very straight-forward.
- Illustrate Consistency
If you execute on your commitments effectively and on time, day after day, people will come to rely on you. The same is true when you execute a consistent style of leadership, setting consistent expectations with your employees and giving consistent rewards for good work. People will come to depend on your leadership and be heavily influenced by your reliability. That consistency is vital for building influence. Otherwise, you’ll have an air of unpredictability about you, and people won’t know if they can trust you. If you’re consistently motivated by the same principles, people will understand that your perspectives are reliable by extension, making it easier to influence people to help you accomplish your goals.
- Integrate Flexibility
Flexibility is important. Work to actively integrate flexibility while holding firm on your beliefs. Negotiate and compromise to show others that you are willing to meet them half way. Stay rigid in your values and beliefs when someone contradicts you, but work with them to find a mutually acceptable solution. When people believe you to be flexible, they’ll be more likely to listen to you even if they’re stubborn in their own right.
- Invest In Relationship
It is critical for people to feel like they know you. This is especially important for you as a leader. Go out of your way to have personal exchanges with your employees and co-workers. Personal working relationships are important for cultivating a sense of team. If people see you as part of the team, they’ll be more receptive to your influence. The key is to be approachable and human to each individual part, while retaining your ability to make good decisions on behalf of the whole.
- Inspire Action
Actions do indeed speak louder than words. Even as a leader with perfect diction and a background in rhetorical strategy, you can’t influence your employees, peers or customers through speeches and arguments alone. If you’re going to build influence in the workplace, you need to inspire through actions. Action plays into consistency – being dependable and demonstrating consistently good results shows people that you’re able to walk the talk.
- Intentionally Listen
Remember that influence is a two-way street. The more you believe in the people around you and incorporate their ideas into your vision, the more they’ll believe in your ideas and incorporate them into their work habits. If you want to build this kind of relationship with your co-workers and employees, you first have to listen. Listen to everyone’s opinion and encourage people to speak up, especially if they don’t often voice their opinions. Take time to respect and acknowledge everyone’s opinion and let people know that you value them. This creates an atmosphere of mutual trust, mutual respect, and mutual teamwork. If you intentionally listen and respond, people will value your insight as a leader and your opinions will naturally be heard, acknowledged and respected – creating enormous influence across the organization. You may even hear some really good ideas!
Influence is an extraordinary asset in the professional world, but remember, your goal should be to become more effective across the organization – not to increase the likelihood of getting others to do your bidding. One is an exciting journey to greater prominence and productivity, while the other is simply a Machiavellian power trip.
What is your level of influence?