Leading by Influence
Good leaders are made, not born. Sure, there are those lucky enough to be gifted with natural leadership “potential”—we all recall those who could effortlessly persuade us to follow them in any endeavour, be it sensible or not!—but any good leader will tell you that learning to influence, stand out from the crowd and effectively communicate are learned skills that require a lot of practice, patience, and a healthy dose of resilience. Because you’re going to get it wrong, a lot, before you start getting it right.
When I reflect on my younger self as a leader, I can’t help but cringe at my lack of finesse and my eagerness to “rally the troops”. I would fire out a message, excited to get my point across, and often neglected to make any attempt to build buy-in. Of course, more times than I’d prefer to admit, my ideas failed before they even got started because they were too large for me to implement alone, and I had not yet grasped one of the most important tenets of good leadership: influence. No one was going to do what I said simply because I said it.
Create shared interest
No one works harder than someone who believes in what they’re trying to achieve. So, one of the most beneficial lessons for me was to learn to create common ground. Before I could, or even should, ask someone to invest their energy in one of my ideas, I first should invest the time to understand their needs and desires.
Positively influencing others with a winning idea feels great; you really feel like you’re accomplishing something and your confidence grows. But each endeavour is a new one, and it’s important to go back to the first point.
While success breeds success, I’ve learned not to rest on my laurels. A part of being a trustworthy leader means your team knows that their needs and opinions matter, too. When someone knows you care, they trust you, and trust is the cornerstone for building influence.
Communicate to influence
Many would tell you that being bold is a critical attribute in an effective leader. A good leader is courageous and that means saying the things that others won’t, right? Well, not necessarily. While it is true that it takes courage to say what others are thinking but are too reticent to voice, it’s more important to speak your thoughts in a manner that people can respond to without becoming defensive.
Effective communication is complex. Maintaining people’s self-respect is critical to building influence. Very little is gained by denigrating someone’s idea, even when negotiating. It’s important to know when to be assertive and when a compromise will be most beneficial.
Know your strengths; own your weaknesses
Over time, no one wants to follow a know-it-all. And over time, I’ve learned that no one knows it all. We all have our strengths, and perhaps one of the most critical strengths an effective leader can have is to know (and accept) their weaknesses.
If you want people to follow you and trust in your ideas and work with you to achieve your shared goals, then you’re going to have to accept that others are better than you at certain things—probably a lot of things. I’ve learned (learning) to admit when I need help or when a colleague is more suited to a certain task than I am. It doesn’t mean I’m not an effective leader or that my ability to influence is negatively impacted, it just means that I’ve built an strong team, and we’re all working to our strengths.
Influence is an art. It requires patience and the willingness to learn from your mistakes so that when you try again, you’re more likely to succeed.