The ability to influence is one of the essential skills for leaders at all levels. It’s more art than science, and it can be tough to get your arms around. But the bottom line is that influence matters. And as we continue to morph (at breakneck speed) into an interconnected, interdependent, increasingly global workplace, it will matter more.
In traditional hierarchical organizations, power is typically based on position. The higher you are on the organization chart, the more power you wield. There are clear, top-down rules where the person at the top calls the shots. The person with the power has the influence.
Today, organizations are moving toward flatter, matrixed and team-based models. The theory is that with change and complexity comes the need to be more nimble, more inclusive of diverse thought, and more collaborative. In this model, power is more about one’s ability to influence and get things done outside of traditional reporting lines. In other words, the person with the influence has the power.
To be an effective influencer, you need both substance and style. Without a solid foundation of credibility, even the most interpersonally adept leaders will fall short. On the flip side, highly credible people can struggle with influence if they don’t understand the interpersonal dynamics at play.
Recent research to identify and measure influence styles created five categories:
- Asserting: you insist that your ideas are heard and you challenge the ideas of others
- Convincing: you put forward your ideas and offer logical, rational reasons to convince others of your point of view
- Negotiating: you look for compromises and make concessions to reach outcomes that satisfy your greater interest
- Bridging: you build relationships and connect with others through listening understanding and building coalitions
- Inspiring: you advocate your position and encourage others with a sense of shared purpose and exciting possibilities
Here are five steps to increase your influence.
1) Understand your influencing style. It all begins with self-awareness. What’s your dominant style? Do you assert, convince, negotiate, bridge or inspire? Do you tend to apply the same approach to every situation and individual? Understanding your natural inclination is a good place to start. If you’re not sure, consider taking a quick assessment. The DiSC profile is the most common used in today's business.
2) Take stock of your situation. Who are the critical stakeholders you need to win over to achieve an objective or overcome an obstacle? What influencing style might be more effective as you interact with them? For example, if you’re dealing with a hard-nosed CFO, consider using a convincing approach, which is based in logic, data and expertise. If you’re in a crisis situation where people are relying on you to be decisive and fast on your feet, an asserting style may be more effective. If you’re working cross-functionally and need to win the support of a peer, a bridging or negotiating style may be the way to go.
3) Identify your gaps. Once you understand your natural orientation and the appropriate styles to influence those around you, figure out where you’re on solid ground and where you need to shift gears and use a different approach to be more effective.
4) Develop. After identifying your gaps, find ways to develop in those areas. It might be a workshop, coach or internal role model who is particularly strong in the style you’re trying to develop. For an added bonus, find a learning partner – someone with whom you can role-play to gain confidence.
5) Practice. Begin with small steps – low-stakes situations where you can test out your new influencing approaches. Target a person or situation where you’d like to achieve a certain outcome, think through the influencing style that will work best in that situation, and give it a try. See what works and what doesn’t. As you build your capability and confidence, move on to higher-stakes scenarios.
Whether you are leading, following, and/or collaborating, chances are you need to influence others to be successful. Influence strategies can range from reliance on position to education, encouragement and collaboration. The key is knowing which approach to use in a given situation.