Invisible Power: Leadership Influence
Rick Forbus, PhD
Influence is the leadership ingredient most ascendant leaders aspire for. Several leadership gurus of our modern times have managed to write volumes on this authority effect, completely repackaging and remixing its meaning and usage to seed their new books. Influence is found in ancient writings of history, religion and politics. Is it something we can learn or is it only endowed upon some “chosen few” through genetic happenchance?
Dale Carnegie was one of the moderns that spoke of this word of which became a topical forerunner of so many of the recent writings. Wikpedia says this about Dale Carnegie:
How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the first best-selling self-help books ever published. Written by Dale Carnegie and first published in 1936, it has sold 15 million copies worldwide. I think Mr. Carnegie and his premises about influence have surely shown the interest in the topic. Furthermore, this topic today is just as vital and possibly more needful in business and organizational life as in 1936.
In Success magazine online an unknown author writes this about influence:
How to Gain the Power of Influence
Jim Rohn tells us we become the combined average of the five people we hang around the most. The people we spend our time with determine what conversations dominate our attention, and what observations, attitudes and opinions we repetitively are introduced to.
Your associations don’t shove you in a direction; they nudge you ever so slightly over time. The rest of that Jim Rohn lesson is this: You will have the combined attitude, health and income of the five people you hang around the most.
The article continues with these ideas:
Evaluate and shift your associations into 3 categories:
1. Disassociation - There are some people you might need to break away from completely. This might not be an easy step to take, but it’s essential. You have to make the hard choice not to let certain negative influences affect you anymore. Decide the quality of life you want to have, and then surround yourself with the people who represent and support that vision.
2. Limited Associations - There are some people who you can spend three hours with, but not three days. Others you can spend three minutes with, but not three hours. Decide how much you can “afford” to be influenced, based on how those people represent themselves.
3. Expanded Associations - Whatever area of your life you want to see improvement in, find those who represent the success you want, the parenting skills you want, the relationship you want, the lifestyle you want, and spend more time with them. Join organizations, clubs, businesses and health clubs where these people are and make friends.
Associations are both subtle and powerful. Jim Rohn
In coaching sessions, I use some different language to describe what the article speaks to, but the power of influence is still the same. Influence can mean:
o Effect on something (someone)
o Special advantage
o Somebody who can sway another
o Control or authority
o Weight over someone or some circumstance
Practically every coaching conversation will loop back to how to influence another person, a culture or an outcome. Of course, the conversation also explores the other side of influence; how the coaching client is being influenced, whether for the good or bad of desired outcomes.
Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another.
Leaders use influence. Some use it wisely. Others do not. Influence can be obtained by most anyone who intentionally goes after it: good or bad. Influence, although not always power, is a lot like power. It has to be used carefully and precisely and with great discernment, to be successful. So, I include one of my favorite stories:
Hank, a landscape contractor, had his first full-fledged job. He didn’t want to appear to be just a rank amateur, so he tried to be nonchalant and casual as he spoke with his first real customer. The customer was an old farmer who needed to have some stumps removed. So, the young contractor decided he should blast the stumps out of the ground. Since the farmer was watching his every move, the contractor took great care in measuring the sticks of dynamite and the fuses- even though he really didn’t know what he was doing. When all was set he breathed a prayer that he had enough dynamite packed under each stump to do the job, but without blowing the farmer and himself to kingdom come. The moment of truth came, and the young contractor tried to look confident to the farmer as he pushed down the plunger. A stump rose high in the air and arched magnificently over towards his pickup truck and landed right on the roof of the cab, completely demolishing the truck. The farmer turned to Hank and said, “Son, you didn’t miss it by much, just a few feet. With a little bit more practice you’ll be able to land that sucker in the truck bed every time.”
The distance between greatness and mediocrity is not necessarily very far apart.
The same is true when it comes to the use of influence. The distance between greatness and the overuse of influence is many times not so far apart. This delicate balance of influence is, in my opinion, what makes the great even greater and the great slip to become authoritarian.
An excerpt from an article about influence that speaks to the art of persuasion is helpful to examine here.
The art and science of persuasion is often discussed as though changing people’s minds is about using the right arguments, the right tone of voice or the right negotiation tactic. But effective influence and persuasion isn’t just about patter, body language or other techniques, it’s also about understanding people’s motivations.
I’ve written about the “rule of reciprocity” before, but it may deserve some noting here, as well. When one considers that persuasion and influence are at least “kissing cousins” in the realm of leadership, reciprocity could be seen as a catalyst. Reciprocal behaviors have been researched and proven to provide the effect of influence on others. The power of doing even little things for others has been demonstrated time and again to elevate the effects of influence. Random acts of thoughtfulness and kindness, as well as, simple forms of recognition in the workplace become strong tools for the leader who wants to build influence.
You can never really live anyone else’s life, not even your child’s. The influence you exert is through your own life, and what you’ve become yourself.
My favorite synonym for influence is based on my belief that leaders these days should stand back from power and control. My interpretation of pure and clean influence comes form the definition of influence as, having an “effect on something or someone.” It can be defined, even more specifically, as a positive effect, when it is not malicious at all. Influence in its best version is empowering! Long-lasting influence comes from committing many consistent acts of kindness, productiveness and empowerment. If you as a leader want to scale your effectiveness with influence, check to see whom you have inspired and empowered to greatness. The most obvious and significant measure of this effect will be the “crown of greatness” that is seen in others’ accomplishments.
Don’t be afraid of enemies who attack you. Be afraid of the friends who flatter you.
Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
In an article found on www.scientificamerican.com listening as an influence skill is discussed.
How to Use Your Ears to Influence People
Listen Up: being attentive to others’ needs allows you to wield more influence – By Tori Rodriquez
We tend to think of smooth talkers as having the most influence on others. Although the gift of gab is indeed important, being a good listener provides even more of an advantage, according to new research.
In a study from the June Journal of Research in Personality, former work colleagues rated participants on measures of influence, verbal expression and listening behavior. Results indicate that good listening skills had a stronger effect on the ratings of influence than talking did. The authors suggest that listening helps people obtain information and build trust, both of which can increase influence. “Expressive communication has received the lion’s share of attention in leadership work, but receptive behavior matters, too,” says study author Daniel Ames of Columbia University. The research also found that being good at both is better than being better at one or the other.
For those who wish for better listening skills, here are a few ways to do it well: don’t zone out or interrupt; be open to alternative points of view; incorporate details that someone said previously into a current conversation. Basically, pay attention. This article was originally published with the title How to Use Your Ears to Influence People.
To conclude this article some helpful encouragement may be in order. Start tomorrow working on your listening skills. How do you start? Try this practical list of tips to improve listening skills immediately and garner more influence:
o Listen to understand context
o Hearing does not mean that you understand so, listen to formulate conclusive evidence.
o Listen with your eyes and your emotions.
o Listening should include questioning the speaker for clarity.
The greatest ability in business is to get along with others and to influence their actions.
The power of influence is a transaction that needs both parties to become reality. The various ways a leader influences will increase their positive influence or decrease it. Maybe it’s time for you as a leader to intentionally shift your influence to the positive and empowering version. How can this shift happen? Intentional goal setting in this area will be helpful. It could be that an employee survey that includes questions about your influencing skills is in order. Should you hire an executive coach to work with you individually and engage with your team to better make these discoveries and bring solutions?
Executive coach – firstname.lastname@example.org