How to Gain Influence as a Leader for Better Outcomes and Increased Productivity
Let’s talk about influence. My coaching clients often ask me to help them gain confidence and influence others—to rally others to their cause. Yet many of them also believe that wielding power over others is disliked and inappropriate.
Influence is different. It is not manipulation or force. It’s more about gaining the trust and credibility that inspires others to follow you. As leaders, we can significantly benefit from becoming influencers, both at work and in our personal lives. It will boost productivity, teamwork, and results.
While telling people what to do often seems like the shortest, easiest road to your goal, it can actually be the worst in the long run. How many times have you felt that you weren’t asked the right way to do something? Or you thought of a better way yet had to do it the other way? Did you resist, feel frustrated, or not follow the directions?
Influencing avoids these pitfalls. You will give others the power to overcome challenges, create change and find better solutions. Influencing gains many benefits in the long run, whether at home as a parent or at work as a leader. We’ll go over three barriers to avoid and three skills to develop.
Three Big Barriers to Becoming an Influencer
In his book Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In, Mark Goulston talks about several limiting behaviors that cause us to reach for an authoritarian approach instead of exercising influence. (It’s a great book to pick up for a deeper dive after this article.)
- Lack of Trust. The #1 barrier to influencing is lack of trust. Your followers need to trust you. (And you need to trust yourself and your team.) Under today’s stress levels, however, our behavior is distorted. We tell people what to do without a thought to negative impact on engagement. We don’t pause to get buy-in, look for input or better solutions than ours, or consider the personalities of others. In this state, we dictate.
A common symptom? You want people to do something you feel is important, but others are simply not responding. Directing restricts others’ ability to trust us. When we pull authority, they sense the one-way communication, which feels like a lack of confidence in them. Many executives are unable to lead and facilitate change simply because they push, tell, and direct, and it doesn’t work.
The most successful leaders report that the two most valuable lessons their mentors gave them included the opportunity to fail and to learn from challenges. Yet it’s easy to feel you cannot take the risk of those under you failing (which may be seen as your poor performance), nor afford the time to listen for even a few minutes to others’ ideas. This perception is an illusion.
- Close-Minded Solutions. Another limitation (from Real Influence) is the assumptions we make. We respond based on past experience, yet our knowledge base drives us to behave the same way, day after day, situation after situation.
When our ideas are less effective and we still push them, we cannot influence others. In the long run, telling our team what to do creates disconnection, damages trust, hurts your reputation, and disempowers others from making decisions, learning, or proposing better solutions. And it blocks new solutions.
Is this you? Close-minded leaders often find people knocking at their door with problems and no solutions, waiting for an answer. When I work with this type of leader, and they never understand why their team is not performing and providing solutions themselves! When you can empower others to do their job and even to experiment, you will gain influence.
- The Dark Side of “I Can Do Better.” Sports psychologist Stan Beecham explains that an “I can do better” mindset actually holds us back from becoming an influencer. This mindset invites criticism. It feeds our ego but puts a short leash on our potential. This attitude means not accepting and acknowledging that we can be better right now. It puts it off into the future.
Most of the time, people do the best they can in every moment with what they know. The more we try to reach for a better possibility and potential, for knowledge and data and skills we don’t have now, the more we limit our influence. We can’t acknowledge our current greatness or find solutions right under our noses.
Three Steps To Build Influence
How do you wield influence that engages and empowers? By building the environment for it. This is a long-term investment. Influencers have a lasting impact on us, often because they are open, caring, trusted, and empower others. Now you can decide whether to develop these skills for yourself or to muscle through it. Take these for a test run and see what response you get.
- Practice Active Listening. Start by holding a safe space for dialogue and input. Receive what others are sharing without letting yourself think about fixing the problem or what you will say.
Try this: listen with your ears, your eyes, your skin and your heart. On your next conference call or meeting, close your eyes and listen with your ears first. Then open your eyes and analyze what people are saying. Build a vision of their ideas, to really see what they are telling you.
Next, feel what they are saying on your skin or in your body. What emotions are coming up when people explain their perspectives? Are you sweating? Gesturing? Do you feel anxious or annoyed? Then pull yourself back into the present.
- Acknowledge and Validate Others’ Concerns. Active listening does not mean you agree with the other person. Rather, you are just listening. Simply rephrase the experience and emotions they have. Instead of saying “I agree with you” when you don’t, try saying: “You have shared that you were feeling (or noticing) ____. And that makes you feel/think ____.” In this way, you simply acknowledge without endorsing. Make this your standard reaction.
This skill alone dramatically changes the level of trust others will have in you. For me, it has changed conversations with friends and family, my spouse, and colleagues. When people are validated, they discharge stress. They become mentally and emotionally available and they are open to your perspective too. It creates healthy two-way dialogue.
- Ask Empowering Questions, not “yes or no” or close-ended questions. Ask when, what, how, who. Let them think and explore. These open-ended questions will lead your team to engage and own their path. Ask questions from a place of genuine curiosity. Again, practice active listening when you get your answers.
Yes, You Can Influence
To change your level of influence, you must change how you show up. When people are not listening or executing, it’s often because: 1. You are not listening well, 2. You are not creating an environment of trust, or 3. You just want to direct and people are resisting that process.
We’ve reviewed many opportunities for you to become a better influencer: by setting aside dictating based on your authority, by developing trustworthy relationships based on two-way dialogue, and by enabling others to feel confident enough to offer creative solutions while holding themselves accountable. Doing this creates an environment that allows others to feel it’s a safe to do their best, and it boosts your influence.