2 Ways to Influence (You Need Them Both!)

Guest Post by Linda Dausend, FlashPoint Leadership Consulting

In the past, leadership was related to authority and title. A CEO, President, or Director was in charge, while those around him or her followed directions to accomplish goals.

However, in the organizations of today, as Susan Finerty says, “Influence is how things get done.” It HAS to be the way things get done, as the world of work is changing, with flatter, more “matrixed” organizations and more cross-functional teams. Thinking things happen because title says they do is old thinking.

At FlashPoint Leadership Consulting, we frequently talk about how emerging leaders can’t wait until they have a formal title to practice and exercise leadership ability. Even as a manager or leader, your ability to lead isn’t automatically bestowed with the title or the promotion. Your ability to lead has much less to do with a title and much more to do with how you exercise influence.

Recently, we’ve been excited to bring “influence” workshops to emerging leaders, with much of the content based on The Cross-Functional Influence Playbook by Susan Z. Finerty Her "workbook" helps leaders and soon-to-be leaders think about their ability, instead of their position, and the influence they can exercise throughout their organization. The playbook serves as a resource in the session and include worksheets, a journal, and activities to help leaders identify opportunities to expand their influence. While used in a group setting, the workbook is most definitely a tool that can be used for any individual that wants to expand their circle of influence in a work or personal environment. 

So what is influence? According to Merriam-Webster it is “the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways.”

Want to increase your influence in your organization – with projects, with people, or in any situation where you want to get things done? Consider the following two ways: 1) the long-term (“proactive”) actions you can take to prepare you for 2) “in-the-moment” opportunities for influence.

Way 1: Create your Influence Foundation

Imagine checking out your groceries in your local supermarket and you notice that the person bagging your groceries is doing a HORRIBLE job – milk on top of eggs, bread smashed in between the canned goods… just not good. You know you are not the “boss” of this bagger, so you don’t have a title to TELL him you are unhappy and how you would like to see the bagging done differently.

Is this an influence opportunity? Well, it COULD be… but probably not. And the reason is that you haven’t built up influence equity over time.

In order to influence consider the following:

  • Partnerships: If you have built partnerships with others, then the likelihood of you having influence ability is much stronger. Start now by developing and expanding your relationships with others. Determine who you need to get to know better and look for situations where you can support those people with what they need. Expand your network and create allies, advocates, coaches, and supporters. Broadening your network with people who trust you and who know they can depend on you will help you exponentially increase your influence capabilities.

  • Flexibility: You can’t always get your way. Know when it makes sense to compromise and even to back down.

  • Knowledge: Learn more of others’ situations by asking questions. Have more awareness of other areas. What do they do? How do they do it? Why do they do it? It really isn’t all about you. Leaders don’t operate in a silo and having knowledge allows you opportunity to better connect with others, increasing your capacity to influence. 

Way 2: Influence The Right Way, At The Right Time

This is really “step 2” because it’s best to start with the long-term approach above. If you have built up influence equity, you are better able to have influence in the moment.

Let’s say you got to know your bagger at the grocery store. You learned her name, a little bit about other things she does at the store, and she’s explained about her process for bagging. You may be flexible enough to let the whole described incident go once, but then it happens again, and you want to influence this poor bagging situation. Given your work to build up some influence equity, you are now better positioned to influence “in the moment.”

Here are some things to consider before doing that:

  • Prepare: Be ready to have that conversation and think about the outcome you’d like to see. Clarify the facts for yourself so you can clearly share your thoughts. Identify the best way/place/format for the conversation so you maintain the relationship yet still affect a change.

  • Dialogue: Have the conversation, using what you discovered in the preparation stage. Listen and ask questions in a neutral way. Collaborate on a solution and have some sort of resolution. Maintain and even strengthen the relationship as a result of this dialogue.

  • Follow-up: In many influence situations you and your influencee will have actions you discussed and planned to take. Just having a plan to do something isn’t getting it done. Discuss follow-up steps and check-in dates. With your bagger, your follow-up may simply be a “thanks” the next time you see her. Encouragement and validation are always great ways to follow-up. 

Using these steps, supported by some “background work” to build influence equity, will put you in a position for an effective influence conversation. 

Expanding your circle of influence is how leaders today are learning to get work done. More and more work happens because of the influence leaders have and not the title on their business card. Practicing influence by building partnerships today will increase your competence and ability to use the skill in the future.


 
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Linda has a bachelor’s degree in business and is a Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) through the Association for Talent Development; an accredited facilitator for The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive TeamTM, The Coaching Clinic®, and Everything DiSC®; and a trained facilitator for The Leadership Challenge® Workshop.

A geocaching enthusiast, Linda performs in musical theatre, plays the flute in orchestras, entertains, and travels.

 

FlashPoint is a leadership consulting firm specializing in leadership development, team effectiveness, and coaching. Through creative and measurable solutions, we work alongside our clients to make sure they have achieved their business goals, their leaders are highly engaged, and their teams are more effective.