A good leader is able to influence others, whether it’s directly or indirectly. Influence is about your ability to have an impact; it’s not about getting exactly what you want. Generally you are participating in a joint effort and you may be delegating actions to others with or without authority. However, influence goes beyond getting a specific task or project done. It’s really about building relationships. If you’re a good influencer you use your influence for good and don’t stoop to manipulation. Most people influence others to some degree all the time whether they know it or not.
As you decide where to focus your networking time you’ll want to factor in both who you need for your success and the success of your projects and who needs your help to be more successful themselves. Have both a long term strategy and short term tactics in mind as you foster your networks and decide who try to influence and what influence you will accept from others.
In order to influence effectively you need to build trust. Be authentic, admit when you are not sure you will be able to help or have other uncertainties, and be willing to open yourself up in return for others’ openness. Once you have given and earned trust you will find it easier to get others to buy in to your goals and make their own contributions. When you keep long-term trust in mind you stay in the “good” arena of influence and are less likely to lower yourself to pure manipulation. This helps build your credibility and image.
A successful influencer is good at understanding and communicating “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) for everyone involved. There may be direct, easily visible, and/or immediately applicable reasons as well as less tangible “good for someone’s career” type motivations. What is an obvious advantage from your viewpoint may not be easily seen by others or may have unseen and/or unintended consequences you haven’t thought of. Verbalizing WIIFM is key.
From a tactical perspective, make sure you engage people before decision making points such as meetings. Have 1:1 conversations and get a feel for who will be supportive. Pay attention to body language and tone of voice. Give credit to others when appropriate and don’t feel you have to get visible credit, no matter how deserved, for every item you contributed. If someone else puts forth an idea that you’ve already expressed don’t assume bad motivations. It could mean the circumstances have led multiple people to the same conclusion or it could be that something you said earlier sank in over time and was well received, whether they consciously remember where they first heard the idea or not. If you feel you really have to point out that you already presented an idea, try phrasing it as “thank you for articulating that so much better than me”.
Make sure you celebrate successes and give praise. Praise should be specific and include the impact, not just the action. For example: “Susie provided a key resource for this project that enabled us to include a highly-requested feature in the program that would have otherwise been cut. This has led to increased sales (of X%) and increased customer satisfaction.” Celebrating success leads to more success.
When you influence others you are practicing a skill that is key to your success. Build your networks, build trust, give credit and rewards when appropriate, and learn to think in terms of WIIFRM. Being a good influencer can have a positive impact on projects, people, and your own career.
Take a look at my other leadership blogs and share your own leadership stories! http://blogs.msdn.com/b/cindygross/archive/tags/leadership/
Influence is a key takeaway for me from my Women Unlimited sessions.