The most common word shared across most definitions of leadership is influence. The implication is, it is not just the bosses who make a real impact at work. Regardless of what level you are, if you’re seen as a go-getter, if you’re trusted because you’ve developed a track-record of delivering results, and if people who make decisions look to your input before they do, YOU are being a leader. It’s also true that just because a person has a fancy title doesn’t mean that they are influential. In fact, they might just be taking up space!
Over the last three decades, I’ve been fortunate to have coached hundreds of influential leaders across thousands of hours of coaching conversations. My influential coachees have taught me that influence has a lot to do with getting things done and effecting change. Much of this has to do with a feeling of agency, the belief that you can positively impact outcomes regardless of the challenges being faced. Too many people, unfortunately, underestimate the agency they actually have, feeling powerless to influence people and situations, resigning themselves to be recipients of whatever fate has in store for them. They throw their hands up in the air and say, “What’s the use, I’m not in charge, so I’ll just wait to be told what my boss wants me to do.” People who carry this disposition – with a mindset that life happens to them and they have no influence over the outcomes – are prone to self-sabotage, prisoners of their own limiting thoughts. In short, victims. You don’t want to be that guy, right?!
>> Learn more at the webinar: A Bigger You: Selling Your Ideas and Increasing Your Influence.
So what makes a person influential? There is no one single thing. Rather, it’s a mix of things that includes likability, trustworthiness, competence, persuasive communication, the ability to create urgency, and the degree to which you consistently help others. When you apply some mixture of some of those things, people are much more likely to engage themselves with whatever your request may be. Dr. Robert Cialdini, who is considered the preeminent researcher on influence, calls this “compliance.” Whenever people say “yes” to your requests, compliance (and influence) has happened.
While influence may be a mix of things, I do think there is a starting point. If you want someone to say “yes” to whatever you’re requesting or proposing, you have to start by listening deeply to the wants, needs, and preferences of the person you’re trying to influence. Influence, in other words, starts by taking the focus off of what YOU want, and keenly understanding the wants of others. Active listening allows you to show the other person that you genuinely value them and their input, that you’re humble enough to know you need to know more, and that you’re interested in their world, not just your own. Active listening builds trust, and trust lays the foundation for your being able to influence them.
Once you’ve listened deeply to the person you aim to influence, set out to apply your influence to help them advance their goals and/or resolve their issues and challenges. It turns out that you have a tremendous amount of agency right after doing someone a solid. Meaning, the best time to ask for your back to be scratched is right after you’ve scratched someone else’s back! The implication is, keep doing right by others, and they’ll want to do right by you.
There is no career benefit to being invisible. There is plenty of downside, though. When you’re invisible, people can’t see the value you’re adding or impact you’re making. When you’re invisible you’ll get overlooked for juicy opportunities that could add to your experience, exposure, and enjoyment. When you’re invisible you might as well work under a neon sign that says, “I don’t matter!”
The more influence you gain, the more your stature and visibility within the organization is raised. You become a bigger you. Not in terms of ego, but in terms of amplified impact. The more impact you have, the more value you add to the organization. And when you add more value, you’ll be seen as more valuable. Guess what happens then? You get brought into more opportunities where you can grow, develop, and add even more value. This is how leaders are made, and how people end up in leadership positions. You want that, right?
Written by: Bill Treasurer