Dr Eugene Brink
Your ability to influence others is one of the cardinal qualities of leadership and workplace success.
And yet, it is still largely underrated and ignored in practical and academic analyses. Some people do it without thinking about doing it, whilst most of us neglect to learn more about it and are too scared or lazy to apply it.
Admittedly, it is a skill which is difficult – albeit not impossible – to master. Learning more about it and then relentlessly practising it, will increase your ability to influence your bosses, co-workers and employees and unlock vast amounts of power and potential.
“Influence is power. No matter who you are, where you work, or what your professional goals are, achieving more influence in the workplace is critical for success,” says Jayson DeMers, founder and CEO of AudienceBloom. “Gaining influence on a team can help you work together more effectively. Gaining influence in a supervisory position can make you more respected and appreciated. Gaining influence in a meeting can make your voice more likely to be heard and acknowledged.”
Leadership is influence, John C. Maxwell, one of the world’s most renowned leadership experts, declares emphatically. “True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that cannot be mandated. It must be earned. The only thing a title can buy is a little time – either to increase your level of influence with others or to undermine it.”
Now that the importance of influence has been established, we cast our gaze to the methods of attaining and building it.
Maxwell’s first tip is developing character. “The character of a leader will filter into the entire organisation and its employees. Great character will create potential for a great organisation. But, it all begins with the leader’s heart.”
Secondly, he says, it is about who we know. “In your sphere of influence, you must develop deep, meaningful relationships that go beyond seeing someone daily because you simply work in the same office. Relationships grow loyalty, influence and ultimately the business.”
This point cannot be overstated. In business and work, favours have to be exchanged and reciprocated. The larger and more loyal your network, the better. Knowing your employees and bosses on a more personal level will enable you to call on them whenever a favour is required. Doing small and large favours, of course for others, is imperative.
Relationships with experts in your field are vital, too. They enrich your understanding by imparting their knowledge, whilst being available to help whenever a co-worker has any queries.
“You just need to have a good rapport with your colleagues. This won’t translate directly into influence, of course, but it does make it more likely that others will at least hear you out. So, work on cultivating personal connections with your colleagues, and allow them to get to know you. That way, they won’t impute negative intentions or motives to you,” writes Rebecca Knight in the Harvard Business Review.
Furthermore, Maxwell adds that what you know and where you’ve been are crucial factors in influence. “All leaders face obstacles – in the office, at home and in their personal lives. However, through overcoming difficulties, leaders grow in great ways. By navigating through multiple tough experiences, followers will likely have more respect for where leaders have been.”
These qualities take time, though. Acquiring knowledge and learning through experience are contingent upon the willingness and ability to be consistent in these tasks. It often involves sacrifice and pain and the resilience to rise above it. The people you are attempting to influence are neither impressed nor influenced by your reputation or even your degrees. They want to know what you have overcome in order to achieve.
These activities go hand-in-hand. Dorie Clark, author of Entrepreneurial You, corroborates that you need to be seen as a recognised expert within your industry or organisation. This implies that you need to build a profile by doing things, such as putting your opinions in the public domain and broadcasting your ideas in various ways.
Soon, they will be recognised as well as challenged. Your co-workers, superiors and industry experts will take note. But in order to attain knowledge, and the concomitant influence, you should take out time to read and rub shoulders with the who’s who of your sphere of responsibility. Also, get yourself a mentor and be one to someone else at the same time.
Finally, remember that influence is not manipulation. The latter is a devious and pernicious tactic that will eventually be exposed if people feel “used” by you. Influence relies much more on persuasion, example-setting and authority than on orders, titles and especially subterfuge.
Jayson DeMers, 15 January 2015, “7 ways to build influence in the workplace”, https://www.inc.com/jayson-demers/7-ways-to-build-influence-in-the-workplace.html.
John C Maxwell, 8 July 2013, “7 factors that influence influence”, https://www.johnmaxwell.com/blog/7-factors-that-influence-influence/.
Rebecca Knight, 16 February 2018, “How to increase your influence at work”, https://hbr.org/2018/02/how-to-increase-your-influence-at-work.