We are living in peculiar times when it comes to the challenges of leadership. The examples around us on the national stage are often found wanting in leader’s ability to connect with others and be in tune with the world they seek to lead. A sense of frustration pervades our traditional leadership forums – politics, corporate responsibility, global functions all appear to be, at times, out of touch or outdated. As change continues and cynicism grows people are beginning to look elsewhere for global direction. Multi-media platforms give access to the direct thoughts and views of so many further highlighting the flaws and failings of which we perhaps we just weren’t before aware.
So what can we learn from this for our own roles?
Well, effective leaders don’t just command or set an agenda – they inspire, persuade and encourage others. They tap into the hearts and minds and energy of those around them and draw out a commitment to achieve results. They don’t just tell or try to lead from a position of authority, they listen, have great self and others-awareness and the wider context within which they lead and, perhaps most importantly, their agendas are open and transparent, not hidden and self-interested.
Essentially their capacity to influence others is their key leadership skill and as George Hallenbeck writes:
“Without the capacity to influence others, your ability to make what you envision a reality remains elusive because, after all, no one can do it alone”.
So how do you make the most of it?
To influence is “the capacity or power of a person or persons to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behaviour, attitude and opinions of others” (Dictionary definition). Not to be confused with assumed authority or having a senior leadership post, influencing others is a tool all of us need, regardless of our role, and doesn’t necessarily come with being in a leadership or management post. However, to be a truly effective leader, one must master the ability to influence others through communication, self-awareness and authenticity.
If you’re in a senior position or setting out an identity for an entire organisation your approach may be to develop cultures through creation, communication and reinforcement of your big picture vision, through developing buy-in to your outcomes and ultimately inspiring a commitment from those who will follow you towards achieving these outcomes. An excellent example of this can be found in sport with the culture created at Barcelona FC and built upon under the direction of Pep Guardiola, now a world renowned football coach, then just starting out in his management career. Much more on this model and how it was gradually and consciously developed can be found through the exceptional book written by Damian Hughes.
However on a smaller scale and regardless of your role in an organisation, it comes down to your individual people skills, your ability to connect with others and inspire them through the quality of your connections, your ideas, the consistency of your attitude range and your ability to make things happen.
The notoriously best leaders - whether they are at the top of an organisation or within the ranks- are able to build and maintain trust through authenticity and self-awareness and create visions which bring others along with them. They do this through the quality of what they do and how they communicate with people.
We are generally drawn to people, leaders, who can appreciate our vulnerability and inspire us, understand our concerns and provide appropriate support to guide us through challenges or looming chaos. At its heart this is about trust. This may come from a broad range of behaviours and manifest in a variety of ways but ultimately are about building and maintaining trust, a trust that requires a delicate balance (for a manager who is leading) between support and drive. For instance, pushing people into areas where they’re uncomfortable while also listening carefully to their concerns and feedback. Trustworthy leaders employ toughness / empathy as individuals struggle with transition as well as urgency / patience as change proceeds.
So if you want to be more a successful leader of influence, whatever your role, what do you need to do?
In reading around this topic there are many developmental techniques, suggestions and fixes. Here are my top 8 that will dramatically increase your positive influence on the people around you:
· Be a leader worth respecting: Influence doesn’t come to us instantaneously; it increases gradually. It grows as we purposefully take action by extending and receiving respect from others in return. This encompasses authenticity and integrity, without the need to be noticed.
· Serve Others: The best use of your time and leadership is to lose yourself in the service of others. You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do. The growth and development of people represents the highest calling of leadership.
· Trust Freely: Trust is the glue of leadership, the foundational principle that holds all relationships together. Teamwork builds trust and trust builds growth. The sure way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them first. The same applies with belief – believe in others and communicate that.
· Aspire and Expect: Leaders make their people better, helping them to go higher than they could have by themselves. Ideas and creativity help you to expand the horizons for others – are you aspirational for the success of others? The more you invest in people and lift them toward their potential, the more likely they are to view you as their leader.
· Connect with the success of others: Leaders are responsible for connecting with their people and relating to them in a way that increases their own influence. When you can connect with people, you can begin to form relationships—and relationships are the basis of influence. If you connect with others then celebrate their success, genuinely enjoy their wins.
· Reveal your character: Leading by example is not the main thing in influencing others—it is the only thing. People will follow you when you show them your strong character and integrity.
· Lift people up. Always show kindness and attention to others. It does not matter who is assigned to your team; what matters is who they will become because of you.
· Create quick wins: Create circumstances that give your people a series of small wins that will magnify their potential, not getting lost in some far off goal. When challenges are mastered and opportunities turn into wins, people admire the leader who has helped them stretch. This is especially helpful if these are milestones towards a greater goal.
These intentions can be adopted irrespective of your role, whether you are a formal position of leadership or as a leader among peers. Consider those that you have worked with or for, those who through actual relationships with you have had a positive effect on how you think, feel and act. What did they have in common? They will have shown elements of all or some of the above, naturally, authentically and with grace.
Now consider those around you – what do they need? Some will need lifting up (and supporting) more than others, some will need to be stretched. It is important to understand each individual and adapt accordingly.
Remember, the goal is to influence others, not manipulate them, or too frequently resorting to commanding them. Effective, ethical leaders for today and the future use different approaches in different situations. Leaders need to understand why they are doing something—and be clear about their own values and goals when applying their influence skills. That way, influence comes from a place of authenticity and has the greatest impact.
How Does Your Attitude Influence?
Your attitude and the range of attitudes you hold and display are the solid foundation stone on which you build your influence. Your attitude range is your comfort zone, up and down which you travel, from your best days through to your most challenging days. Noticed and interpreted by your followers. Consider what your range is – that is, you at your best and you at your worst. Once you have clarity on those two extremes, the awareness itself can be enough for you to be more purposeful in your attitude selection, your influence builds as you become more adept at shifting your range upward and slowing down the travel through your range.
Ultimately, all leadership is about influence. It’s the single most important factor in your impact.
It begins with self-improvement—making an investment in your own authentic abilities and adaptability—a commitment to keep growing and learning. Being the example is one of the most influential things you can practice.