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Cultivating Leadership Influence

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GollyGforce // cc by 2.0 //

How to Improve Your Influence as a Leader

Have you noticed that some people are better at engaging others in positive and effective conversations? As I was contemplating this topic, a leader I coach shared a personal and professional win. She took a chance at the senior team meeting to share her observations and speak up rather than her usual listening and taking notes.

As many of her colleagues were going down a negative and blame-filled discussion path, she overcame her shakiness, voiced her observations, and suggested another way of looking at the challenge on the table. To her surprise, her statements had impact. She had positively influenced the mood and the direction of the discussion.

What do leaders say and do that promotes a positive outcome or what we call influence? Both an art and a science, influence is a set of interrelated skills, worth your attention and practice.

Here are 5 practices to help you cultivate greater influence:

Check your credibility: At the foundation of influence is trust. You will have greater influence, even in times of disagreement, when you are perceived as credible. At the heart of credibility is how you set a personal example of what you expect of others, follow-through on commitments, and hold others to the same values and standards. Are you consistent and reliable? 

Are you a credible leader?”

Mind your emotional intelligence. Your agility at managing your emotions and those of others is critical. The best ideas have been torpedoed when delivered in an aggressive and demeaning way. Voice tone and timing impact how messages are received. Developing and communicating genuine empathy is a very undervalued competency. Learning to talk honestly without being adversarial takes some practice as well.

How well do you identify and use your emotions for the best impact?

Up your inquiry quotient. When you have passion and a strong investment in a position, it’s common, to “tell”, “defend”,  and “personalize.” However, in this increasingly project based world, sharing your position and opinion in a more collaborative way will heighten your influence. If you can learn to offer your perspective while staying curious about the position of others, you will increase your negotiating power. Active listening is at the core of this with acknowledging, validating, and summarizing. Remember, we all have a natural drive toward conformity, so draw out conversations to enhance understanding and look for the mutual benefit. Observe your own conversations.

How often do you tell, rather than ask?

Lean into difficult. Knowing how to respond rather than react to difficult people is important. You may not use an overt challenge as a tool for being heard, learn how to respond to those that do. This is certainly never easy, but the more practiced you are at diffusing tense situations, the greater influence you will have with the offender, and with the team. Treating another with respectful firmness when being faced with negativity, argumentativeness, and rudeness, increases the likelihood that a difficult situation will become an opportunity. Think about what you do to create the right environment?

What do you do when faced with a difficult personality or situation?

Be authentic…maybe. Authenticity is a complex issue. I have heard many leaders say that others will just need to accept them for who they are and value their “realness.” It is true that authenticity is at the root of trust and credibility, but here is where the “art” of leadership becomes important. Don’t underestimate the power of being liked, and part of that is just being nice. Impactful leaders often summarize what they have heard and end with some expression of gratitude. One way to check in on this issue is to get feedback.

How often do you ask others about how they experience you as a leader or team member?

Having influence as a leader is a social art and some would argue that leadership is influence. You will benefit immensely by increasing your self- awareness and practice of this important interpersonal capability. So, challenge yourself to observe your emotions and your behaviors, developing your “influence” muscle.


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Holly Seaton, Ph.D.

Holly Seaton, Ph.D. is a consultant for FlashPoint. Holly is an executive coach who appreciates the privilege of helping organizations and individuals build their leadership capacity by moving from intent to action.

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