One of the common things that come up in my coaching sessions is the belief that they (the coachee) have no influence as a leader. But I don’t believe this is true. Influence is a skill that can be learned. So we all have the power to influence people.
Influence is not about control
So what do I mean? Let’s take an example.
Sam has reached a point in her career where she wants to focus on leadership experience. Sam has considered the leader she wants to be but now she wants to influence others. It’s time to think about the concept of power vs influence.
When we think about leadership, we often equate it to authority over others. I talk a lot about the illusion of control (listen to my podcast on distorted thinking) and how we can’t manipulate or control other people to do what we want. This is obvious if you’ve ever tried to get a child to do something they don’t want to do!! However, influencing others doesn’t have to mean controlling or manipulating them.
There is more to leadership than authority and power. Sure, in the short term this kind of leadership can be helpful but, in the long term, it won’t generate trust ad respect from the people you lead. If you want to build a high-performing team, you will need to use your influence to go deeper. It could be inspiring others, sharing your point of view, or having transformational conversations.
What is Influence?
Influence can be defined as the ability to affect the character, development, or behavior of someone or something. It requires developing a strong emotional connection with yourself and others. Those who use their power of influence are often skilled at tapping into the emotions that drive people’s actions. This explains why influence is synonymous with leadership.
Take a moment to consider these questions in your own leadership:
- How do you influence others?
- How frequently do you deviate from this approach?
- Do you consider yourself to be a leader or a follower?
- How can you increase your influence?
The Benefits of Influence
Women in leadership or seeking a move up to a managerial or executive position face unique challenges. Practicing your power to influence others offers you an opportunity to overcome the challenges that face you. There are other benefits too:
- Inclusive leadership influences your team to be their best and has a lasting impact
- Managing with influence opens up the space for a two-way conversation around vulnerability. This is critical for the wellness of the entire team (and helping you develop your leadership)
- Employee retention improves because influential leadership is rooted in empathy and builds trust and loyalty within the team with everyone feeling valued.
- Growing influence furthers your career, and advancing your career grows your influence-a definite long-term win-win.
Using your power to influence people
There are lots of ways to influence people, here are four that I think are effective because you build motivation and commitment within the team, generating positive outcomes.
Get to know your team
Spend time getting to know your team, building trust and rapport, and strengthening interpersonal connections. Ask: “What have your past managers done that you’d like me to do, or not do?” This question will instantly establish your credibility and show that you care. Whether their last manager was good or bad, their answers will provide valuable insights, such as what they appreciated most. You may need to reset their expectations and give them a reason to be optimistic.
Commit to your team
If you are not committed to your team, why should they have any reason to follow you? Find ways to show others that you are committed to them on a group and individual level. This is best done by sharing your vision for what success looks like, why their roles are vital to reaching it, and building growth opportunities along the way. Remember, people aren’t going to hold themselves accountable if they haven’t bought into the same plan, so hold regular one-on-ones that allow you to demonstrate your commitment and simultaneously build followership.
Appreciate your team
We all like to be recognized and appreciated for our efforts. Be focused and set an excellent example by thanking the team. Whether through a few words of praise at the end of a tough week or recognizing their critical role in a recent project, can make a big difference in their motivation. As a first-time manager, one of the best questions to ask your people is, “How do you like to receive praise or recognition?” The answers you receive will help you learn how to give your team members praise and recognition.
In doing so you can link any outcomes to the team values, reminding people that acting as their best selves will move you all towards a common goal. This is where the inspiration happens!
Listen to your team
This is part of a democratic leadership style and involves asking for advice or input from the members of the team. Then listening. As a manager, to be liked is to be concerned, engaged, and empathetic to your team’s needs – as their leader, not as their friend. Remember that often you are their touchpoint to the organization’s larger vision, and it is your job to keep them aware of the big picture, listen, and provide them with the resources they need to succeed.
This helps the team feel more motivated and committed. In asking for their input, you show that you value their opinion.
Some things to remember
Whilst I believe that we all have the power to influence people, sometimes this can feel hard as you first learn and practice this skill. Remember that influence doesn’t just manifest itself in your words, but also in your actions:
Completing projects on time, in a quality way, and with enthusiasm and innovation shows reliability, which in turn builds your influence.
Your commitment speaks volumes about you and can be just as influential as your opinions. Being known for unquestionable reliability means others can count on you for your input and to deliver in a crunch.
That said, remember that you must have boundaries! Oftentimes, women in the workplace can feel as though taking on more work or offering help every time someone asks for it will increase their influence and make them known as someone who can handle immense responsibility. This isn’t true and it’s OK to say no.
Introverts can influence
Here’s something that may surprise you: Quiet leaders can be just as influential as extroverted colleagues. Remember that silence can be a strength. Taking your time to respond in moments of silence with a thoughtful response can be influential in its own way.
Whether you are introverted or the outspoken type, the key is being comfortable with yourself and your communication and leadership styles. A situation may call for you to be open, vulnerable, reserved, direct, or any number of other traits-all of which can fit into your own influence style. So being quiet isn’t a game-changer; knowing when to open up, and thereby building confidence and trust, is.
Influence isn’t about you
Advocating for your ideas and building a consensus within teams are essential ways to assert your influence and produce results. That, in turn, increases your influence even more. But influence isn’t just about you. Hearing what others have to say and building a bridge between ideas also strengthens your leadership. Employees and colleagues who know they can come to you already are trusting your influence, and you ultimately benefit from their mutually constituted support.
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