The ability to influence is a vital skill in today’s business environment. Here’s how leaders can master it.
By Marc Dellaert and Sergey Davydov
Talent Economy Influencers
Influencing others is a necessary skill for leaders at every level. By convincing or persuading others, a leader creates direction, alignment and commitment. The most effective leaders exert influence by leveraging their bases of power, both informal and formal, while combining logical, emotional and cooperative appeals to gain the support needed to make their visions and ideas happen.
Here are eight ways that any leader can become more influential in their organization:
- Make people share goals
Every leader wants to achieve certain outcomes. Effective influencing generates voluntary support and commitment from people. Commitment is strongest when people share goals and believe that what they do is best for the organization. This leads to a higher sustained effort over time and improved interpersonal relations.
- Avoid the trap of compliance or resistance
When people are not persuaded, they become compliant. Even worse, they might resist, openly or in silence. In the short term, compliance can increase productivity, but it does not unleash the full potential of the team. Change initiatives will partially fail or will require more time and effort than planned. Resistance can lead to people making excuses or going over a leader’s head to undermine his or her authority. The key to effective influencing is to spend enough time to truly understand and align with others’ ideas and concerns when setting goals or embarking on a change initiative.
- Influencing is selling ideas
Good influencing is like selling a product or service. Leaders don’t push the client to buy. Rather, selling is about convincing the client that they will benefit from the proposition by persuading them with a leader’s ideas or inspiring them to change their behaviors. Leaders can influence clients, peers, direct reports, shareholders, stakeholders and even those above them.
- Flex influencing tactics: the Head, the Heart and the Hands
Each of us is persuaded and moved by different approaches. Some rely on rational or intellectual arguments, with facts (the Head). Others want to feel that they belong to something bigger; they’re inspired by the leader who shares values and creates a shared purpose (the Heart). Others are touched when they’re supported by offering assistance and advice. Consider the preference of the person or group leaders seek to influence, remembering to combine different influencing tactics (the Head, the Heart and the Hands) to build a stronger commitment with more people on a team or organization.
- Apply the devil’s advocate technique to create a shared vision
One powerful way to build commitment with people or teams is by playing “devil’s advocate.” For example, in a discussion about proposing an idea for a new change at work, leaders can challenge a perspective by looking through the eyes of someone who may view it differently. A more advanced variant was used by the Wright brothers. Aside from pioneering aviation, they were known for continuously switching sides, using a dialectic thinking method to create advancement and alignment. This method requires that a leader convince others that they fully understand their position, that they have another perspective on the issue, and that together they can reconcile seemingly contradictory perspectives into a more advantageous position.
- Be authentic and build trust
Where there is trust, there is confidence in the integrity and abilities of people, and it’s necessary for leaders to influence others. Leaders who openly and authentically admit their mistakes and praise others are more likely to create shared purpose and to effectively influence. When they align themselves with the mission and the values of their organization, these leaders can generate high trust and credibility — two of the most powerful tools to influence and persuade.
- Become a collaborative role model
When leaders offer help to others, they’ll likely feel grateful. Cooperating with others — opposed to competing — is a strong way for leaders to influence. Good leaders demonstrate the cooperative behaviors that they would like to see imitated by others. They’re able to span cultural, generational, hierarchical and functional boundaries. They demonstrate their emotional intelligence and readiness not only to take, but to give to others. These leaders become role models while creating direction, alignment and commitment.
- Leverage the power of relationships across cultures
Leaders can leverage different bases of power to influence. The power to influence doesn’t come only from a leader’s job title, charisma or even the possibility to reward and to punish. Great leaders draw from strong relationships when influencing others. In today’s globalized business environment, the ability to build strong relations across cultures becomes a critical leadership skill. The effective cross-cultural leader will adapt their influencing style to the prevailing leadership style based on that culture’s tendencies towards different beliefs and assumptions. For cultures with a strong paternalistic leadership style, respect for authority, moral leadership and benevolence are important. In more individualistic cultures, a more transactional style — giving and taking, praising individual performance — allows the leader to build stronger relationships. In cultures that are more collectively oriented, the leader will increase his influence by uniting people around a shared purpose.
Regardless of a leader’s place within an organization, mastering the art of persuasion and influence is a necessary skill. Put simply, without exercising influence, leaders cannot lead.