The Role of Influence at the Heart of Effective Leadership

There is wide agreement that the ability to understand strategic perspectives is a critical element of leadership: to see the big picture then create the vision and direction for the business. Unfortunately, the human element of the job often receives much less attention.

15th March 2011 published by

 

There is wide agreement that the ability to understand strategic perspectives is a critical element of leadership: to see the big picture then create the vision and direction for the business. Unfortunately, the human element of the job often receives much less attention.

 

The obvious problem with this approach is that there is little value to be gained from discovering where you want to go if others won't follow. It is essential to develop a leadership style capable of influencing other people to work with you to get there.

 

Dale Carnegie, the interpersonal skills expert and author of the best-selling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, put it this way, "When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic but creatures of emotion." This why no one was ever inspired by logic. To tap deeply into the motivation required to produce outstanding results it is essential to activate the emotions. Hence, influencing skills are essential.

 

It's All About Influence

 

I like to define influence as, "A power affecting a person, thing, or course of events, especially one that operates without any direct or apparent effort." To me, this summarises what leadership is really about: the capability to shape an outcome whilst adopting a style which seems effortless.

 

True leadership - that commonly associated with those rare leaders who leave a lasting and positive mark on society, but which may also be demonstrated by anyone who genuinely seeks to serve others - cannot be awarded or dictated. One of the greatest leaders of all time, Mahatma Gandhi, did not have any of the recognised hallmarks of power. Yet he exercised enormous power through his ability to influence. He:

 

 

  • Demonstrated that real power is never about overpowering others but is instead the act of acknowledging and encouraging their power.

  • Showed that authentic leadership is not about having followers or how many people served him.

  • Was a living example of why the best measure of a leader is the number of people a leader chooses to serve and how many other leaders he creates.

 

Through this approach he achieved freedom for 300 million people.

 

So What is Required to Achieve Mastery in Influence?

 

The vital importance of influence is one reason why it is so important for leaders to develop excellent coaching skills: there is no more effective way to increase influence and assist others in reaching their potential. Research, such as that conducted by Daniel Goleman (author of The New Leaders and other bestsellers) has found that leaders who are also coaches create the best results. Adopting this approach as you develop your own leadership style will help you to create other leaders, enabling you to extend your influence through them to all of the other people that they touch.

 

I was once asked by one of my clients how hard it is to become really good at influencing others. And my answer...

 

It depends how good you want to be.

 

There are many examples of people how clearly demonstrate that the limiting factor in determining the level of influence that you can achieve has nothing to do with any particular natural ability: every leadership competency that you need can be learnt. In fact, this is an area where most people can develop very quickly with some focused effort.

 

This was clearly illustrated by Zenger and Folkman in their book, The Extraordinary Leader, in which they describe how elevating yourself into the top 10% may be much easier than most people would expect. But the standard approach adopted by individuals and businesses almost diametrially opposite to what really works. They found that the best strategy for achieving excellence is to focus on what you are already good at and to seek to improve it further.

 

This approach is effective because it requires above-average strength in only a few attributes to achieve a high probability of being seen as a great leader. Because so few people really focus on developing their skills once they have left full-time education (much as most people still read at much the same level as they did in their early teens), there is an excellent opportunity for those that do so. It requires only the identification of useful areas of focus, the development of techniques for practicing and embedding the new skills, and the determination to follow through.

 

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