The guiding principles of effective influencing for leaders

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Over the last two weeks, I’ve been in quite a few coaching sessions with leaders where they have chosen to share their professional development plans with me. Depending on whether their organisation operates on a calendar year or financial year, these development plans had either formed part of an end of year or half-year review and incorporated goals and action steps for the next six or 12 months. 

One leader, who has been in his role for just under a year now, told me that he was excited but at the same time a bit embarrassed to share his primary developmental goal with me. 

He had been very happy with his review overall, but apparently his manager had told him that he needs to “display more impact and influence” in his role. He immediately took this to mean that his boss (and therefore probably his team) thought he was weak. We quickly dismissed this self-talk, but at the same time it led to a very productive discussion around the importance of influence as a leader. 

“I’ve just never thought of myself as a manipulator”, he said, almost apologetically. 

I told him there was nothing to apologise for here at all. 

‘Influencing’ and ‘manipulating’ are not synonymous, particularly when it comes to leadership. 

“So, then what do you think she meant by ‘demonstrating more influence’ in my role?”, he asked, quickly circling back to what his manager had noted as an area for him to focus on in the months ahead. 

I then shared a story about a conversation a boss of mine had with me many years ago when I was probably at a very similar stage in my leadership career. He had asked me whether I thought I had to influence to be a leader, or whether I needed to be a leader in order to influence those around me. 

Perhaps more of a topic for an interesting debate, I let him think about it for a moment before suggesting two books that I felt would help him get a better understanding of the concept of influence. 

My first recommendation (revealing my quasi-academic side) was Robert Cialdini’s “Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion” and the second (which I only read last year to keep up to date with the latest trends) was Olivia Yallop’s “Break the Internet – In Pursuit of Influence”.

While coming from completely different perspectives, what both these books have in common is the clear belief that influence is about making an impact and having an important effect on someone or something. 

He probably hasn’t had a chance to read either of these books yet, but back in our coaching session, once we’d had a bit of a laugh about neither of us becoming the ‘next big thing’ to ‘break the internet’, we spent quite some time talking about the differences between influence and manipulation; how to best use emotional intelligence to secure buy-in (from both his team and his own manager); and the general guiding principles of effective influencing. 

As a leader, there’s no certainty that, for example, the team member sitting across the table from you, or opposite you on a Zoom call will share your passion, enthusiasm, and conviction.  

Points of view may differ; competing agendas may clash; barriers may be put up. So, developing stronger influencing skills and presenting with confidence will allow you to build more solid relationships with those around you in the workplace up, down, and across the organisational structure. 

Manipulation can be quite a negative trait particularly for a leader as it is often associated with undermining or showing no respect for others; not reasoning with the other party; having zero flexibility; or being overtly competitive or dominant.  

On the other hand, influence is typically considered to be a far more positive trait as it commonly incorporates respect, rapport, and trust; a genuine understanding of the other party’s (or parties’) position(s); and a more flexible approach to a long-term (ongoing) successful outcome as opposed to a one-off success. 

Influencing works by acting on the unconscious. 

Whether you are a new leader responsible for a small team or an experienced leader responsible for an entire organisation, you will often find yourself in a position where you want (need) your team members to trust you and to think or act as you do.

Becoming an influential leader is much more than simply getting people to do what you want.

You want your people to stick with you and believe in you even in the most challenging situations. 

Leaders who successfully practise influence do so by getting those around them to take action without any sort of exertion. 

The importance of influence is demonstrated through establishing credibility and trust and can be used to induce a change in attitude and often a change in behaviour especially in the workplace. 

If you’re wondering how, I’ll share one my key take-aways from Robert Cialdini’s “Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion” in which he refers to the six ‘laws’ of influence – the law of scarcity; the law of reciprocity; the law of authority; the law of liking; the law of social proof; and the law of consistency. 

From a leadership standpoint, the two ‘laws’ that I feel are most relevant are the law of authority and the law of consistency. Naturally the law of social proof where people trust the collective knowledge of the crowd is more akin to influencing in the Instagram or TikTok sense of the word. 

Consider the law of authority.

Employees prefer to trust (and take advice from) experts. Researchers in the field of organisational psychology have found that few employees are truly influenced by leaders that do not know their subject and how it affects others. If you want to be an influential leader, you will need to know the details, the risks, the obstacles, as well as the potential outcomes from what you are suggesting as a path forward. When you are seen as not only trustworthy but knowledgeable, the ability to move others in a desired direction increases exponentially. 

The law of consistency is equally important.

Inconsistent people are often considered to be indecisive and often even ‘two-faced’. Consistency is associated with strength, honesty, and logic. Strength and honesty are associated with transparency and being a transparent leader means being open and honest with your employees even if this makes you feel somewhat exposed or vulnerable. Consistency is one of the most valuable traits of leaders today. It helps to eliminate employees’ fear of the unknown as well as any unnecessary nasty surprises.   

Remember, authority + consistency = credibility.  

Every leader wants to be credible in the eyes of their employees. But part of this credibility also means being influential.

After all, as the boss who once asked me whether I thought I had to influence to be a leader, or whether I needed to be a leader in order to influence those around me also pointed out (quite assertively), if you can’t influence others, then your ability to lead them will be lost. 

Remember hellomonday provides coaching and support to every leader, prioritising development initiatives that result in long-term sustained change, reinforcing habits through curated learning and impactful coaching, and ideally helping leaders develop the ability to influence those around them. 

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