How to Influence Like a Leader

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you shared your perspective but it wasn’t received well? Or maybe you wanted to voice your ideas but were hesitant about the possible repercussions? Or maybe you just couldn’t find the right words to express the solution you could “see” inside your head? If any of these match your experiences, read on and discover how you can influence others as great leaders do.

Why is influence important?

In today’s competitive environment, influence is the new currency. If you want to work your way into a better career opportunity, be an influencer of good ideas. If you want to get your employees, your community members or your family on board in a certain direction, influence is more powerful and more sustainable than exerting direct pressure. If you are in a cross-functional environment where you work on various projects with other departments, your success lies in your ability to influence those not under your direct supervision as well as those with whom you do not directly report to.

What does it mean to influence like a leader?

Great leaders get others to embrace ideas and act on them without using their direct power. They don’t need to force compliance. Instead, they get into the minds and hearts of others by showing the VALUE to them individually as well as the value for the organization or other people involved.

What are the challenges to influencing others in a positive way?

People are reluctant to promote their ideas because:

  • Fear of negative outcome.
  • Resistance to change.
  • Poor communication skills.

How can you overcome these challenges?

  1. Have balanced expectations about the consequences of speaking out. Take a moment to acknowledge the worst as well as the best that could result from sharing your ideas. Accept that the actual outcome will likely fall somewhere in between. This allays fear and puts it into proper perspective.
  2. Recognize that no one likes change because of the extra effort it takes especially change that offers no significant difference. For the listener, even changing their perspective has emotional and mental costs. Be clear on why the extra effort is worth it. To be realistic, be upfront about the benefits as well as the costs of change and then focus on how much the benefits outweigh the costs.
  3. Practice being clear and precise in your communication both written and orally. Have simple evidence or data to back up your claims. Most importantly, put the listener first when you communicate by considering how they want to receive information. Be interested in what they need in order to feel secure with your words.

How can you be an influencer in all your conversations?

Recognize that influence is cultivated before any conversation takes place. Influence is earned when you consistently behave in a trustworthy manner. When people feel they can trust you, they will give you their time, attention and consideration. Here are the 5 behaviors of an influential person:

  1. Follow through-You do what you say you are going to do. From the smallest promise to the largest commitment, you honor your word. You demonstrate your reliability and dependability.
  2. Hold yourself accountable-When you make a mistake or realize an oversight, you own up to it as soon as possible. You demonstrate the magnitude of your strength by admitting your vulnerabilities. You demonstrate fairness by holding yourself to the same standard that you expect of others.
  3. Engage in healthy conflict-You encourage a healthy exchange of differences without being judgmental. You demonstrate the belief that the best solutions emerge when all sides are heard and considered.
  4. Communicate honestly-You share information openly and honestly to the best of your ability. You are an active listener, hearing between the words to gather the full meaning of what is being said. You demonstrate a positive intent by being strategic in your communication so that it always contributes to the highest and best outcome. You demonstrate credibility by checking the facts and weighing the impact on others before you speak.
  5. Build others up-You acknowledge the best in others and consistently reinforce them. You demonstrate your own self-confidence by freely giving others the spotlight.

What is different with a formal presentation?

As mentioned earlier, influence is always occurring in and outside of every conversation, verbally and with your behaviors. However, sometimes we are called to present our ideas in a formal setting. Successful influence in this realm requires all the above plus additional planning.

  1. Before you present, know who you will be presenting to. Learn what is important to them. Also, figure out who their influencers are.  Try to have conversations with those influencers beforehand and learn what you can about potential obstacles to your idea.
  2. Open your presentation with a clear and attention-getting declaration about your idea and the positive benefit it will deliver in a realistic time frame.
  3. Create a conversation around your idea by asking probing, exploratory and open-ended questions that will get others involved in a group discussion that could create buy-in spontaneously. This will avoid you getting caught in the trap of having to defend an idea that others feel were forced upon them.
  4. Be ready with next steps to get your idea off the ground if the answer is yes or a positive nod in the right direction. Don’t let expectations of getting a “no” set you up for failure by not having a plan A, B or C to keep the conversation going.

Being able to influence others is key to creating success in every aspect of your life from work, to raising children, to developing strong relationships and social networks. Learn to influence like a great leader by overcoming your own challenges in speaking out and demonstrating trustworthy behaviors in all you do. Then go forth boldly and assert your influence. The world is always in need of one more good idea.

Jo-Aynne von Born, Executive Coach, Trainer

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