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Becoming Influential

| March 19, 2019

by Jim Bruce

Leaders must be men and women who influence others to enable them to become more effective. In her essay Five Principles to Follow If You Want to Influence Others,1 Amy Glass, writes “No matter your role, influence is key to solving problems and making things happen. … [T]his means persuading people to help you affect change, implement key decisions and create buy-in around your ideas.” Influence is often contrasted to manipulation which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means to “control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly of unscrupulously.” Influence is not manipulation.
In the MOR Leaders Programs, the topic of influence is first introduced as an outcome of building relationships.2 Since leadership is not a solo activity, by investing time in building and maintaining relationships you create built-in networks of individuals available to support you in your endeavors. However, your leadership will often need to range far beyond the group you lead or your existing networks. Thus, our circle of influence needs to extend beyond those individuals who are included in our formal networks.
It’s often been said that “a leader is always on stage.” That means that the leader is often in a position of positively or negatively influencing the behavior of others. If, for example, I’m seen by others as not delivering on my commitments or taking ethical short-cuts, they may think negatively of me and be less likely to be positively influenced to support or become involved in my initiatives in the future. Or, they may be influenced by my actions and take short-cuts themselves. Neither of these is helpful.
Dan Pink, author and speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore, writes, in his book To Sell Is Human,3   that leaders spend 40% of their day, directly or indirectly, influencing. If we spend this much of our time in this activity, we should work to get really good at it. Amy Glass1 suggests five key principles we should be employing to become really good.

  1. Influence is a persuasive process. Note the word process. It doesn’t, or only very rarely, happen all at once. It may involve building a long-lasting relationship, taking the time to understand others’ perspectives, developing clarity about what you and they want. We need to take the time to get to know the people we encounter, paying attention to what they care about. Consider the different points of view we encounter. And, be very clear as to what you want. Influence is the result of this ongoing persuasive process. Most encounters we have are not “once and done.” So, make your encounters with others positive so that the next time you need to engage with this individual or group of individuals they will want to work with you.
  2. Influence is a product of trust. The primary way to establish trust is to promise something and then deliver on that promise. This behavior, on your part, needs to be on-going, not a one-time thing. 
  3. Listen to what those you are trying to influence have to say. Take the time to understand where others are coming from, both what they are thinking and feeling. To do this you have to ask good questions.4  Asking insightful questions will help those you are trying to influence feel that you value their points of view, that you are listening to them, and seeking to understand them.
  4. You will need to communicate persuasively. This includes talking about the current state, establishing the need to address a problem or to make a change. Once you understand the need you have to develop a solution. And, you need to visualize what the benefits will be.
  5. Influence is all about solving problems. It is not about winning. If you are seen as a problem solver, your credibility will be improved, and your circle of potential influence expanded.

Brent Gleeson, Navy SEAL, author, and speaker, has a similar list in his essay, “Leadership and the 7 I’s for Influencing Others5

  1. Identify the results you want. Once you know the results, work backwards from there.
  2. Illustrate your credibility. Those you are trying to influence need to see evidence that you are credible.
  3. Invest the time necessary to get to know the people you need to influence.
  4. Invite them to share their ideas. “The team’s voice must be heard in order to create a learning culture and continually improve overall performance.”
  5. Investigate options that lead to common ground.
  6. Intend an outcome that meets everyone’s needs.
  7. Improvise as needed. “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Preparation and adaptation are more important than all the planning that you must first do.

The suggestions that Amy Glass and Brent Gleeson propose you take will help you become more influential. Said even more simply, begin to take more interest in the people around you. Let them know that you know they exist. Smile. Say hello, or good morning/afternoon. Engage in conversation at the coffee machine or in the hallways. Let people get to know you. Be genuinely interested in them. Build casual and deep relationships. Be interested in what others are working on.
All this will enable you to become more influential, be seen more as a leader, and make renewed progress along your leadership journey.
Make it a great week for you and your team.  . .  .     jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates.  He previously was Professor of Electrical Engineering, and Vice President for Information Systems and CIO at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.

  1. Amy Glass, Five Principles to Follow If You Want to Influence Others, Forbes Coaching Council Blog, October 2018.
  2. Brian McDonald, Building Relationships – The Four I’s: Initiate, Inquire, Invest, and Influence, MOR Associates, Inc.
  3. Dan Pink, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, Penguin Random House, 2013.
  4. Jim Bruce Good Questions, Tuesday Reading, MOR Associates, Inc., June 2018.
  5. Brent Gleeson, Leadership and the 7I’s for Influencing Others, Forbes blogs, June 2016.