Leading with influence is a skill that has been curated by leaders in the past, present and future; it is not a fad, but rather a deeply relevant characteristic within managerial roles in the workplace.
Leaders wear different hats for different situations, and having a developed understanding in situational awareness is an extremely important leadership skill. If there is a fire in the building or a critical decision that requires an immediate answer, a leader needs to put on their autocratic hat and make a quick decision for the safety of others and potentially for the organization. It would be completely inappropriate in those situations to put on your consulting hat to have a brainstorm session with your team or your consensus hat to try to gain agreement on a go forward plan. Thankfully, most situations do not require this kind of immediate, autocratic decision-making style.
Who Cares About Leading with Influence?
Year after year, the top coaching priority for our clients has been influence. Leaders in every industry, and at many different levels in an organization understand the value and importance of developing the ability to informally influence their direct reports, peers, and superiors. Employees respect and appreciate the guidance they see in managers who are leading with influence.
Being influential helps leaders get things done – influence brings speed, agility, and inspires action.
Recently a coaching client was sharing her struggle with trying to influence a department that impacts her team. She was voicing her frustrations that this department didn’t understand how what they were doing, or not doing, was impacting her teams’ ability to serve their customers well. After much discussion, I asked her “What do you think that team is trying to accomplish? Do you know what their goals are? What do you think is important to them?” and finally,“What’s your relationship like with that team?”. She was silent for a moment. Very humbly she replied, “I don’t know.”
A Different Perspective
She realized she did not know their perspective or point of view on the situation. She did not know their long or short-term goals. She had not taken the time to try to build a strong relationship with the team or the team’s leader, and instead was solely focused on her own team and how they were being adversely impacted.
This leader does not have a solid line reporting relationship with this team, however that team has a pretty big impact on her teams’ ability to do their jobs well. To support her team’s ability to execute well, she needs to focus on how leading with influence can ensure this situation does not happen in the future.
What Drives Influence?
What drives a leaders’ ability to influence others and why is it important?
Influence is all about the ability to persuade others without the use of authority or force. Leading with influence is the ability to understand the other person’s world and share your world and then create a scenario where each person or team sees the larger wins. It requires trust and the creation of a shared vision of success, and enables leaders to have impact in their organizations, industries, and communities.
It is the ability to build strong and trusting relationships.
These fire department leaders do an excellent job of sharing their perspective on what drives influence. “It’s about relationships, that’s the influence piece, and that’s how leadership works and how you get things done.” said one fire chief. “You have to nurture the relationships to have the influence.”
I like how Mike Myatt defines ‘Why Influence Matters’ in this article. “Leadership without influence—isn’t!” He then goes on to state, “…understanding how to leverage the influence factor can make a defining difference in your ability to drive change, build cohesive teams, and to successfully implement strategic vision.”
What can I do to up my influence and impact?
I love this quote by Carl Sagan as it expresses the importance of influence and impact in our lives so tastefully…
So, what can you do to up your influence and impact…put on your coaching hat and practice, practice, practice! Practice with your direct reports, your peers, your boss, other departments, your customers, and your family.
We all know those leaders who may be the quietest in the room and yet they seem to have the biggest influence and impact. How do they do it?
They listen deeply and they ask good questions. They demonstrate a sincere desire to get to know more about a situation or person and understand all perspectives. Their feedback, both positive and critical, is focused on the success of the other person or team. They demonstrate clearly that it is ‘not about them!’
Listening deeply and asking good questions is a skill we all need to practice, especially those focused on leading with influence more effectively this year. The more we practice the more natural it becomes. The more we turn our focus from inward to outward and learn about another person or situation, the deeper the relationships we develop which in turn builds trust which is the basis for the power to influence.
Coaching skills that build influence
We’ve covered a few of the skills, behaviors, and attitudes in some past blogs – being human helps, as does being open about your intentions and making an effort to be present in conversations. These are all aspects of a broader set of “coaching skills” that leaders can learn and use in their roles to be more effective and influential.
Here are a few more…
Know yourself and then get over yourself! Being able to influence others requires a deep knowledge and appreciation for other people’s thoughts, feelings, and perspectives, especially when they are vastly different from your own.
Leaders who want to be influential must know what is important to the other person, they must know what that other person values most. Connecting on a values level removes blocks and deepens the relationship. Deep relations impact your ability to influence.
Coaches, in their training, learn how to cultivate behaviors and mindsets that place others at the center of an interaction:
- Give people your full attention
- Be present
- Pay attention to your judgments and then set them aside
- Make it your mission to understand the other person’s perspective
These are all ways to let people know you are truly interested in getting to know them better.
Successful people really do listen twice as much as they speak. They listen to what’s not being said, to tone, to hesitation, to body language.
Coaching is all about listening and asking questions to check for meaning, draw out values, understanding what other people desire, and helping others come up with their own solutions. Listening and asking another person questions is the key to building the relationship – most people want to know you care about them before they are willing to ‘be influenced’ by you. This is a prime example of why it is so important to build a relationship with your team members, in order to practice leading with influence.
I love the line from this article that highlights how Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, viewed what needed to be done to transform Microsoft’s culture…the leaders of the company had to shift from being know-it-alls to being “learn-it-alls.” Satya knew it started with him…he needed to model the behavior he wanted to see in all his leaders – starting his journey to leading with influence.
The results have been compelling as noted in this comment… “He’s with you,” said Jean-Phillipe Courtois, a member of his leadership team. “You can feel it. You can see the body language. It doesn’t matter if you’re a top executive or a first-line seller; he has exactly the same quality of listening.”
Asking Better Questions
In coach training we learn an extremely valuable tool…ask questions for which you don’t know the answer! We all know those people, and perhaps you are one of them, that asks questions in a way that that others feel compelled to agree with them.
“I’m thinking we should go in this direction, what do you think?” What that person is conveying is that they have already made up their mind and they would really like you to agree with them!
Asking better questions means you are focused on understanding other peoples’ values, knowledge and opinions. Asking better questions has a huge impact on solving problems and inspiring action. People will see your intentions, and react based upon them.
Mike Vaughan, managing director and CEO of The Regis Company, encourages leaders to ask deeper questions, the ones that dig under the surface and lead to deep thinking – they are the ones that “inspire creativity, fuel passion and lead to profound ideas and most importantly they spur people into action”.
Create Commitment, Not Compliance by Leading with Influence
One of the myths about coaches is that coaches are there to give advice – nothing could be farther from the truth. Coaches are trained to manage a process of discussion and discovery that enables clients to set goals, identify roadblocks, and achieve results faster.
When our clients define their own goals and are connected to why they want to achieve them and understand how achieving them is going to move them closer to where they want to be, their commitment level to themselves goes up!
When a leader is acting like the hero, they take all the credit and the team doesn’t share the win.
When a leader acts as a supporter, a coach, they “remove impediments, give guidance… empower people to do their best work. Everything…is about ensuring [the] team is set up for success.” This results in employees who are committed, who feel valued and who will focus on the outcome, putting in more effort, hard work and engagement because they believe that what they are doing brings value.
When in a coaching role, leaders encourage others to co-create solutions, which helps others build their problem-solving muscles. This approach builds shared ownership of ideas and actions. When people own their solutions, it fosters stronger commitment and follow-through. It encourages leading with influence, and allows people to be led.
When you lead with your coaching hat on you convey to others that you are truly interested in them and their perspectives. You build relationships that invite discussions around successes and challenges and convey the message that you want to win together. You vastly increase your influence and impact, and foster a strong coaching culture within your company!
One of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou says it perfectly “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
If others feel you care about them and their successes, they will allow themselves to be influenced by you. If you care about them and their successes, leading with influence will come naturally.