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Leadership is about Influence
17 August 2016
Leadership is about influence. It’s the ability to affect action, transform behaviour and shift views without relying on positional power and direct authority. Influence is what transforms a manager into a strong leader, goals into results, and plans into effective action.
Our work is getting increasingly complex. In the past, you could perhaps rely on traditional command and control approaches to get things done. Even then, that probably only got you compliance and half hearted efforts at best. Today, we’re often required to lead cross functionally across teams, sometimes even across borders; and often with no direct or formal authority.
Developing leadership influence is therefore essential to our effectiveness as a leader. It’s the leadership agility needed to persuade others to do what’s necessary to deliver our business or project objectives.
A while back I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Ann Sherry AO, Executive Chairman of Carnival Australia. As the overall 2015 AFR and Westpac Woman of Influence, she knew a thing or two about leading with influence. She pointed out that it was our own self limitation that stood in the way of us developing leadership influence.
In her words -
“You have to believe that you can make a difference”
Her advice on how to build our leadership influence is compelling -
- DECIDE that this is what you want. No one can make you do this. Be deliberate that you will be a leader of influence as it will involve pushing past your comfort zones.
- CHOOSE TO ACT. Good intentions are one thing, but it's your actions that will get you results. Learn the skills of influencing and begin practicing them.
- PICK SOMETHING YOU CARE ABOUT. It's always easier when it's a subject or project you feel passionately about. You will also have greater influence when you are clear about why you're doing it. And Ann Sherry's advice ? If, for whatever reason, you cannot influence within your company, then find a passion project externally and be a leader of influence there.
In their Harvard Business Review article - Connect, Then Lead - Amy Cuddy and John Neffinger suggests that the best way to build influence is to begin by building connections and projecting warmth to build trust. This creates openness to facilitate cooperation, communication and the exchange of ideas.
I couldn’t agree more. The key I believe is to be genuine in your intent. As you connect and build trust, listen to truly understand and collaborate to find ways to achieve a true win-win. If you approach others with the sole intent of getting what you want, you will be perceived as manipulative and it will have lasting damage on your leadership reputation.
A leader without influence relies on authority and compliance, while a leader with influence inspires engagement, new thinking and commitment. Successful leaders understand this and they master the skill of influencing to inspire and create impact.
You cannot lead effectively without influence. If you master the skill of influencing with authenticity, you will be an inspirational leader that draws out the best in others.