How to Influence People

Leadership Capability: Influencing Others

This blog is part of a 16-part series focused on what capabilities make a strong leader. Sounding Board has identified 16 leadership capabilities that the strongest leaders possess. These were developed from research-backed leadership theories, leadership competencies used for evaluation from top business schools, and 25+ years of practical coaching application. 

Think about the last time you Googled a product. Maybe you’ve been eyeing a new pair of sneakers, and you’re watching for a sale. Before you decide to pull the trigger, all of a sudden, you start seeing other, very interesting ads for similar shoe brands. It feels like they’re reading your mind — or your digital cache — and now you’re considering a new brand of sneakers that may soon become your favorite.

We often see this power and ability to influence people in our everyday lives. Less frequently however, do we come across people who are tactically adept at influencing others at work; people who inspire us, evoke our trust, and make us believe in their vision. Real, influential leadership is a power that stretches far beyond corporate marketing ploys.

In today’s uber competitive marketplace, it’s not enough to be a good, or even a great leader. One should also be influential. It’s about leveraging a different kind of cache, the kind that goes along with being named to Time Magazine’s annual list of the world’s most influential people — individuals like Naomi Osaka, Shonda Rhimes, and Jensen Huang. These are people with immense power, who much of the public trusts. A leader who can influence people doesn’t have to be on that same scale. It’s about being someone who others want to hear and see more of because we believe in the vision they embody.

Influential leadership is an imperative

Merriam Webster defines influence as: “the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways.” In other words, it’s the ability to produce an effect or behavior in another person without explicitly alluding to, forcing, or coercing it out of them. 

When it comes to leadership, Vanessa Van Edwards, author and founder of Science of People, said that influence is the ability to develop a vision around something you care about, to show others why you care, and to earn their buy-in and support to make that vision a reality. 

Whether you’re a hopeful presidential candidate looking for votes, or a people leader looking for budget to launch your next big idea, influential leadership is vital to make things happen. If a leader can’t effectively influence others, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to garner support or trust from the people they need to get the job done. Fortunately, like most leadership capabilities, influencing people is a skill that can be learned and honed, and working with a certified leadership coach can help.

How to increase your influence at work

Anyone can lead, but not every leader can influence people. At its heart, influential leadership is about the trust you evoke from other people through your actions, communication style, subject matter expertise, and ability to connect. There are quite a few ways to keep your skills in these areas sharp, but start with some foundational basics:

  1. Communicate and listen with an open mind: Communication is a two-way street. If influence is about persuading others and garnering their trust in you as a leader, it is also about listening to your people and understanding their concerns, feedback, and praise. It’s vital to engage others with transparency and authenticity to gain their respect and trust. Remember, no one wants to feel manipulated; people are only willing to be influenced by leaders they have faith in.

  2. Model a mindset of lifelong learning: When we think about influential leaders, rarely does the picture of a stagnant, stubborn individual come to mind. Rather, influential leadership looks like someone who is constantly evolving. They keep their skills up to date to stay relevant, and they can pivot when the situation calls for it. It’s imperative for business leaders to continually evaluate themselves, and adapt in a world that changes so quickly.

  3. Motivate and support others: Think about former First Lady Michelle Obama. Irrespective of one’s political leanings, she is an individual who commands respect and trust. She wields incredible influence, yet, she portrays a relatable air of understanding and empathy with almost everyone she engages. When she delivers speeches, it’s as if she’s speaking directly to you. Her influence is grounded in lifting others up. For business leaders looking to influence others, this must be a priority. Encourage your people, and support their growth. When they deliver bigger and better things, it will reflect on you and your organization.

  4. Remember, you’re the expert: Perhaps the most challenging task of all is trusting yourself. When you, as a leader with influence, ask for others’ trust, it is vital that they observe your faith in yourself. Balance is key. You don’t want to fake it, but you also don’t want to appear arrogant. So, when you bring a new project, product, or person on-board, be certain of your decisions and confident in your expertise. Genuine expertise will imbue you with an air of self-confidence that people can trust.

Influential leaders don’t have to stand alone

Influencing others is an art. Leaders who are consistently able to influence people have likely honed their craft for years to gain the expertise, recognition, and trust they now enjoy. They are excellent communicators, and have the interpersonal skills that earn buy-in and faith from their people. Leadership coaching can accelerate acquisition of these skills, and it’s worth it to engage in this development work. For modern leaders, influence is a superpower that will open doors today, and keep their impact in collective memory tomorrow and beyond. 

With the right development strategy and some practice, you can learn to inspire others and wield influence too. Fortunately, there’s no need to do it alone. At Sounding Board, our certified coaches are highly trained to help you fill the leadership toolbox you need to communicate more openly, promote a learning culture, inspire others, and use the expertise you already have to level up your influence and create a positive impact in your organization. Request a demo today.

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