Leadership can be complicated but effective leaders in today’s workforce need to now be less authoritative and now have the skills to influence others to gain consensus or agreement to move initiatives forward in a way where people are bought in and motivated. The ability to influence is an essential leadership skill that as a soft skill is increasing in demand as leaders need to inspire, persuade and rally their staff so they have a commitment to a shared goal. You may have the authority to make somebody do a task but that does not mean you can make them do their best that is often when influence becomes more important. Each day people are at work they make a decision on how much effort they are going to exert- I pride myself on my effort but I started to realize that leadership does make a difference as leaders can influence there staff and generate commitment from their employees. I take building trust incredibly seriously as have seen my own supervisors build trust with me and also fail to build trust. My last supervisor was very talented in building trust she built a trust where I felt accountable to her and I was committed and motivated in making sure I completed anything that supported her with speed and quality. I would be lying if I said I did not have supervisors who also lacked the skill to motivate and influence people in a positive way; as professional as people might be there is still a point psychologically that they become motivated or worn down and demotivated. I have also had this occur where supervisors take credit for the work of others and blame others for mistakes and truly break trust within their teams. Often individuals are motivated by career growth for themselves and forget that they are leading teams and that the best way to career growth is empowering their team and building trust.
The Skill to Influence
The skill of influence for leadership is no longer a “nice to have” it is essential to be able to engage employees and build collaborative environments. Authority does not motivate individuals the same way influence does so understanding the skills and steps needed to influence is important. Below is a base for understanding and ability to be able to be an influential leader in the workplace:
- Organizational Intelligence
Understanding the structure and processes of an organization is important in being able to navigate through and apply influence to move initiatives forward. There is a formal structure but to apply influence it is also important to understand the informal structure (ie. Politics). Leaders who understand how to navigate the informal structures of an organization can often accelerate initiatives and reduce friction and pushback; I will discuss leveraging network and contacts further below. Furthermore building social capital helps in being able to navigate organizations as politically savvy individuals have often taken time to foster personal relationships.
- Promotion and role
To gain influence often leaders need to know how to promote themselves and understand their role in the organization. Furthermore often they can gain the most influence by promoting and enabling their teams. Servant leadership, especially in agile environments, are gaining steam and this type of leadership often needs to use influence and negotiation to remove blockers that impede their team’s progress. To be able to remove blockers often influence is needed, in agile (scrum) scrum masters work to remove blockers for their staff in sprints often this takes influence to implement these agile practices across the organization to enhance efficiency. Roles are changing across organizations and influence is a skill that is becoming necessary to be successful in many new roles.
- Trust Building
Credibility is important when trying to exert influence and often this needs to be created over time as actions are what truly build trust. Likability is often a part of trust-building but credibility is the even a larger part of trust. This does not mean credibility equals trust but credibility is often a direct input of trust in the workplace. Trust is complex and often this is forgotten as it takes time and is a process. Leaders can do a lot to build influence as in the past I have found doing a lot of little things to build influence is also important. Getting to know people and
Accountability across teams also needs to be built to help trust but this is something that also is a bit of a science as to when in leadership roles expectations need to be set, communicated and allowed to be clarified.
- Network and Listening
Influence is complex and often is built from not trying to influence but to listen and to be an empathetic leader who can really make people feel heard. When people feel they are being heard they often become empowered to work harder and are more motivated. If people feel like there is no use talking to you they won’t and will not engage with you affecting how you network and your overall influence. It is important that in being open to listening you should also be open to being influenced. Building a network where you have credibility and trust and often knowledge can lead to your influence spreading exponentially across organizations.
To truly be able to influence and provide influential leadership you need to be seen and you need to show you care and empathy is a part but passion for the goal is also an important point as seen in Kouzes and Posner The Leadership Challenge “If a leader displays no passion for a cause, why should anyone else care”.
The Need for Authority (Sometimes It Is Needed)
There are times sometimes that authority is necessary to move things forward. In change management best practice it is imperative that a sponsor with authority for the initiative is established. Engaged sponsors can help accelerate initiatives and power change and even if individuals have influence often authority is needed to accelerate achieving company goals with aggressive timelines. Strong sponsorship can often help reinforce the organization’s commitment to the initiative and there are times that influence is not enough in moving initiatives forward in the workplace.
A leader who is focused on achieving mutual goals across an organization can be powerful when they have a skill set that can build influence in their organization. Understanding influence and how to upskill to gain influence is becoming more essential in the workplace and in my last role I often did not have formal authority in many of my organizations initiatives but was able to push them through or to get significant progress in continuous improvement initiatives by working with an engaged management team and using influence to gain consensus and move initiatives forward.
Fahim Moledina is the Principal Consultant for Opti-Syn Consulting and is a business leader with expertise in project/change management, finance, lean/agile methods, as well as marketing and sales.
If you enjoyed this please share this below: