People often ask me how they can become more influential. They are usually thinking in terms of influencing co-workers, such as getting them on board with a change process, or in working with senior leaders—perhaps to land a promotion or get a new career opportunity.
Influence is: the ability to mobilize people to get something done or to persuade others to a particular point of view and/or action.
While there are many ways to gain influence, I think there are two primary drivers:
- Building relationships founded on trust
- Having knowledge or experience that others value
Certainly there are many other factors that affect our ability to influence others, one of which is our ability to communicate effectively. However, without the two drivers listed above, even good communication skills will only go so far.
I find that many people think they have stronger networks and relationships than they actually do. The difference between a “contact” and a “relationship” is trust. Trust is earned over time and the lack of it is often why our networks (think “LinkedIn” and other social media platforms) don’t provide a lot of value.
How do you earn trust?
- Keep your commitments. Be careful what you promise, and make sure that promise is delivered. Sounds obvious, right? Yet, so often people do not follow through.
- Show genuine interest in others. Trust develops when you believe that someone cares about you as a person. Showing genuine interest can be as simple as checking in with your network contacts periodically just to find out how they are doing. I recall a former colleague calling me wanting help getting a specific job after a period of no contact for over two years. I was a bit put off by the request—apparently I was of interest only when this person needed something.
A second key to influence is having something that others value, respect, want or need. Think about people who are influential in your life—it’s probably because you value or admire a quality they have, respect their opinion, or recognize their expertise in a particular area. If you want to be influential, one of the best ways is to find a collection of skills or areas of knowledge where you can excel and then proceed to get really good at it. In other words, think about your “domain”. (I’m borrowing the term “domain” from the Information Technology world, where it refers to a connected group of software and/or hardware systems and users). By having a domain of expertise you have less risk of obsolescence and a broader skill set to share. My domain is in developing an organization’s talent, which consists of an interconnected collection of skills in coaching, assessment, consulting and training. When you develop your domain expertise, you will find that it won’t take long for others to begin seeking out your advice and guidance. Keep in mind that your domain is dynamic and maintaining its relevance will be important.
Why care about your influence? In today’s virtual world of work, I think the days of getting things done through positional power alone are gone. The millennial generation and those that follow have a different view of what leadership looks like, and hierarchical status alone won’t make much difference. Only those with a great degree of influence (through the ways we discussed above) will find that others will follow their lead, accept their guidance and drive important business outcomes.