What does Influence mean to you?
If I asked you to think of the person who most positively influenced your life and career, how would you describe that person? Confident, generous, encouraging, positive, consistent, a direct communicator, honest and so on?
What kind of leader do you want to be?
There are many examples of what looks like leadership but really isn’t. Dictatorship and bullying demonstrate influence, but do they demonstrate good leadership? Positive influence implies helping people change their minds and improve their mindset, attitude, behavior, or all of the above.
A Client Case Study in Influence
My client Bruce heads up a division of a large and fast-paced company and had been identified for a higher-level role in the future. He is smart, funny, analytical, well-liked and respected for his intellect. However, when it comes to communicating with his colleagues, his boss and the board, at times his style not only fails to be influential but has gained him a reputation for being pig-headed, unyielding and lacking in executive demeanor.
Self-Awareness is Key
As a result of a 360 interview process, Bruce, who otherwise considered himself very self-aware, realized that he had blind spots. This was especially true when he felt passionate about an issue or project and a colleague disagreed with him. He fought every battle, took things personally, and resented when the other person was wrong and he invariably right all along. With his senior team, he was seen as a complainer when he focused on other people’s flawed arguments and his sarcasm was often viewed negatively.
Being the smartest person in the room, as Bruce came to realize, wasn’t the key to success. In fact, it’s often viewed as obnoxious. In order to influence colleagues, clients or his senior team, he knew he needed to change his behavior. He worked hard to:
- Stop and strategize before diving into a debate
- Consider the other point of view and if there is value to it
- Ask himself if it was a battle worth fighting
- Practice emotional self-control
- Be aware of body language, tone of voice and choice of words
- Avoid taking things personally
- Adjust the communication to the audience.
- Avoid using sarcasm especially when feeling self-righteous or defensive
Like many people, Bruce often used his superior intellect and analytical skills to overwhelm his audience. Strengths that are overused can quickly become liabilities. While Bruce had many of the following attributes that describe influence, he had to work on a few to be more effective as an influencer and a leader.
To demonstrate more Influence:
- Believe in what you say
- Show empathy for other people
- Have confidence in yourself and your beliefs
- Demonstrate credibility
- Make connections
- Inspire others
- Show vulnerability
- Display courage
If we are honest, with ourselves, we may find ourselves wrestling with one or more of the areas listed above. Growth comes from taking the first step in realizing what we need to improve. What is holding you back from becoming a positive influence/leader in your career? Are you ready to work on those areas that need strengthening? Are you ready to become a leader that your direct reports and senior team will respect and emulate?