To build your Influence Muscle, start here...
Influence is about getting what you need.
In our cross-functional corporate world, this often means getting what you need without having actual authority over others.
Influence in this complex environment is challenging. However leaders who strengthen their Influence muscle see benefits in their leadership that extend beyond getting what they need in the moment. It positively impacts their Executive Presence and their careers as well.
Influence is one of the most common areas of struggle for my coaching clients.
It usually comes down to a particular situational or individual challenge that just won’t budge for them. This often leads to suboptimal outcomes, stress and frustration, and a significant drain on their resilience. Even engagement can take a wallop when little headway is made.
The best place to start strengthening your Influence muscle is assessing how you stack up against the barriers that most often limit Influence effectiveness. These “Influence-Blockers” show up time and time again with my clients. Sometimes they're aware of them. Sometimes they reside in the shadowed depth of a blind spot.
Here are four of the most common ones...
1. Allowing Emotions to Rule
2. Using Unclear Communication
3. Not Doing the Ground Work
4. Taking a One-Size-Fits-All Approach
Influence Blocker #1: Allowing Emotion to Rule
When one cannot rely on the power of authority to make things happen, it can easily be replaced by more “forcing” behaviours, especially when progress grinds to a halt and frustration and stress builds.
In this situation leaders - especially those who are more forceful and direct by nature - can resort to more direct tactics to “get the job” done. Delivering ultimatums; pushing the issue up the chain to be dealt with; deciding to go it alone. Approaches that get short-term results but are sure to undermine Influence in the long run.
There are one-off exceptions, of course. For example, there is a time and place to raise the issue up to more senior levels of management. But this should be a last resort and done only with a calm assessment of the situation. Unfortunately, judgment, blame and assumption of others (what I call the Trifecta of Pain) can take the wheel when frustration is heightened.
This is the Emotional Intelligence connection to effective Influence. Emotional self-regulation and empathy are both required. In fact, they are foundational.
Think about a current or recent situation where you struggled to influence another. How much did your allow the Trifecta of Pain impact how you showed up as an Influencer? What was the impact of this on your ability to Influence them? How did emotion limit you?
Influence Blocker #2: Using Unclear Communication
One coaching client who found herself and her team being repeatedly sent work that did not belong to them wanted it to stop. Attempts to address the issue had fallen flat. Exploring this, it became apparent that the opportunity for more effective Influence existed not in the “what” she was saying, but in the “how”.
Effective Influence requires clarity about what is needed. Sometimes, in an attempt to “protect the relationship” the language used becomes cloudy. Equivocal. This, in effect, is the opposite to the situation in the first Influence-Blocker above in which language is overly direct and emotion-laden.
With this particular client, while the general need was getting communicated, the importance and urgency was getting lost. Reflecting, she realized that she was using "safe" language such as “it would be great if...” too often. The result - her voice was not being heard.
A different approach was in order.
In her next discussion with her colleagues, she was unequivocal and unemotional: "We need to take this off our plates by the end of next month. What is required to make this happen?"
Direct. Unambiguous. And Effective.
Rather than drive a wedge in the relationships, the result was a shift of the discussion from whether it could happen to a constructive one around solutions to make it happen.
Is your language and tone getting in the way of your ability to Influence effectively?
Influence Blocker #3: Not Doing the Ground Work
Effective Influence is a Long Game. How are you about cultivating a network of strong relationships?
Trust is essential to effective Influence, but the heat of the situation is not the ideal time to build it.
People rarely change based on rational argument alone. Emotions fuel change and decisions. Influence is all about bringing people to your way of thinking. This requires a shift in their thinking so that you get a decision in your favour.
The building of a trusting relationship is an emotional undertaking. Even if you’re networking simply to connect with a person, you are building an emotional connection. Let's face it. People want to help those they like. How often have you yourself stretched more than you normally would simply because you like the person and want to be supportive?
Effective Influencers understand this, building relationships with their list of “Tier 1” connections so they can be leveraged if and when they're needed. Self-serving? Sure. But Influence is by its very nature. However, in every relationship there are two partners, and each partner benefits in the end. It’s a two-way street.
If you have a core list of key colleagues who are important to your success and are making the time and effort to nurture trusting relationships with them, excellent! Your Influence effectiveness is likely much higher than most as a result.
If not, there’s no time like the present to get this ball rolling!
Influence Blocker #4: Taking a One-Size-Fits-All Approach
I've left, I think, the most important to last.
As mentioned earlier, Influence involves motivating people to make decisions that result in you getting what you need. Decision-making is a deeply personal thing.
Effective Influencers understand that the people they need to influence often have Communication and Decision-making styles that are different from their own. Perhaps even vastly different.
To emphasize the importance of this point, here is a quote from best-selling author Mark Murphy who highlights 4 Communication Styles: Analytical, Intuitive, Functional and Personal…
"No one communication style is inherently better than another. But picking the wrong style for a particular audience, whether it’s one person or a thousand, shuts down listening and can spell trouble. Learning to build flexibility around your preferred style allows others to more successfully hear the important things you need to communicate."
People often communicate with others exactly as they would like to be communicated with. This is fine if styles mesh. But what if you're dealing with someone with a different style to yours? All the wrong buttons get pushed and rather than increasing receptivity to your needs, you shut things down.
Take, for example, a very direct, fast-moving, decisive leader who is trying to influence a personality that is more reserved, introspective and cautious. An effective Influencer, after assessing the person’s preferred style, decides how they need to adapt to this individual.
They might: Choose words that will resonate best. Take a more patient approach. Use techniques like Active Listening to show that the person’s point of view and concerns are being heard. Select questions to surface what’s important to the other individual.
Everyone has needs. Not just the Influencer. Wise Influencers know this and strive to get to other’s needs, keeping in mind that these “needs” often show up as objections, concerns and fears. Aspects that are often the death-knell for Influence if they remain hidden.
Be cognizant of these personality-based needs. Stretch yourself to adapt to them. It will offer huge rewards as an Influencer.
The fact that you’re reading this article likely indicates that you understand the importance of Influence as a leader, and are wanting to build this muscle even further. This article has explored four of the most common barriers leaders often face as they strive to do this.
Assessing yourself in these 4 areas is a great way to take stock of your Influence effectiveness. Be honest as you self-assess. Commit yourself to taking action and reap the Influence rewards!
Glenn Case is a Leadership and Executive Coach in Vancouver, Canada.