The sun and the wind decided to have a contest. They wanted to see who could get a man to take off his coat. The wind, of course, thought he would be able to blow it off if he blew strongly enough. So he blew with all of his force. As his force increased, the man grabbed his coat more tightly around himself. Exhausted, the wind finally gave up. The sun came out from behind a cloud and began to shine down on the man. As it continued to shine, the man became warm and took his coat off.
This fable is one of a collection called Aesop’s Fables, first published in 1495. The moral, of course, is that influence, in the end, achieves a goal more effectively than the use of raw power. This truth is as valid today as it was in 1495, perhaps even more. And if we want to become influencers rather than “dictators” there are certain skills that must be developed.
Traditional Concept of Power
In the workplace, the traditional concept of leadership and authority can be seen through a flowchart. The people toward the top of that flow chart have the power. They make decisions, communicate those decisions to people below them, and then assign tasks accordingly.
In governing, many leaders have been authoritarian over the centuries too. For a modern-day example of the use of extreme power to control an entire nation, one need only look at North Korea.
In family situations, authoritarian parents make all of the decisions, and children must obey. There is no room for argument. And punishment will follow failure to follow the directives that are given.
In all of these situations, the one in charge believes that s/he must have the control in order for his/her or organizational goals to be met. This is usually accompanied by a belief that subordinates, whether workers, citizens, or children will go awry if not controlled. And, in many situations, these subordinates conform to directives out of fear of some type of punishment – being fired, going to prison, or loss of privileges.
Toward “Rule” by Influence
What psychologists, business experts, and even parenting coaches now tell us is that the use of power to control behaviors and outcomes is not as effective as developing skills of influence that convince others to behave as we wish. In fact, if leaders can use influence rather than power, the long-term results in terms of goal achievement are more long-lasting, because others have “bought into” those goals.
Today, in an increasingly diverse and globally connected environment, using influence will become more and more important. In the past, the one with the power had the influence; today, the one with the influence has the power. And those in leadership roles will need to develop their influence styles based upon certain skills. So what exactly are the skills that a leader must develop to become and influencer rather than a dictator? They are as follow:
4 Easy Ways to Increase Your Influence
Being assertive should not be confused with being dictatorial. It really is the ability to present your ideas and solutions with confidence. You present your point of view with solid foundations to back it up, and you challenge opposing viewpoints with grace and logic, not with anger or frustration. Within this skill is the ability to persist in your attempts to convince others without being heavy-handed. This is a rational, logical, and calm but persistent approach to influencing others to accept your view. Using this approach will mean that you will be the “last man standing,” with your viewpoint being seen as the correct one. Using this skill means that you have the data, research, or foundation for your belief that you can present to others in confidence and in a tone that is not confrontational but, rather, informational and rational.
Building relationships with those you want to influence is a key component in becoming a successful influencer. Consider, for example, the current marketing trends in convincing a consumer to buy a product or service, especially online. Until a trusting relationship is built with potential purchasers, not much happens. For this reason, online marketing efforts focus almost solely on developing trusting relationships.
And so it is within all organizations that need to accomplish goals.
A school principal once stated that he knew exactly which teachers had good relationships with their students and which did not, by the behavior of students when that teacher was absent and a substitute teacher brought in. In classrooms where the teacher wielded power but no influence, the students pretty much went wild when their “jailer” was not present. Those students who had great relationships with their teacher behaved much better because they did not want to disappoint someone they genuinely liked.
A lot of this comes down to the difference between “respect and “like.” More authoritarian leaders are focused on gaining respect from their subordinates. Leaders who prefer to rely on influence are more interested in their subordinates “liking” them, not in the sense of personal friendship but in a sense of trusting that they are honest, have integrity, are willing to listen and genuinely care about their positions, situations, and issues. Such subordinates are far more willing to cooperate and collaborate with their leaders in this type of environment.
Leaders who want to influence will show genuine interest in others, including curiosity that makes them ask important questions that will provide insights into their values and priorities. They will make others feel important and valued. They will also provide support and encouragement.
The leader who wants to be an influencer will look for compromises and be willing to make concessions on the small things in order to achieve the larger goal. Leaders who come from a vantage point of power are not prone to negotiate, for that would mean giving up some “power” to others.
In a business environment, there are often deadlines that are imposed upon a team of workers. A project requires a specific completion date, and everyone is “under the gun” and stressed as that deadline approaches. During a meeting of the team to discuss progress, it becomes clear that additional hours will be required to meet the goal. In the past, this has meant that everyone stays at the office beyond the regular work day. This time, a few team members have asked that they be allowed to work remotely from home. This has never been an option in the past, and goes against standard protocol. The leader who considers this option and ultimately provides a “yes” to these team members has demonstrated a willingness to compromise in order to achieve the greater goal – completion of the project.
In the same vein, influencing others may involve “favor swapping.” The influential leader who needs another to complete a task that may fall outside of his realm of responsibility can negotiate this successfully if s/he is willing to provide favors in return. Consider the project deadline. In order for that deadline to be met, more must be asked of a specific team member. An influential leader will get that additional work by offering something in return – a bonus, a day off, etc.
History is filled with stories of inspirational leaders who were able to influence others to become as passionate about their goals as they were. Somehow they were able to instill an energy and enthusiasm and a “buy in” on the part of others. This is a difficult skill to quantify, but it is linked to passion on the part of the influencer and the powers of communicating that passion to others in convincing ways.
We all know that enthusiasm is contagious. When leaders are excited about projects and challenges, they project that in their presentations to others. But part of this inspiration must translate into behaviors too.
Consider the leader who has the enthusiasm and the ability to communicate that to others. Everyone “buys in” and has the same enthusiasm in the beginning. The leader who then divorces himself from competing a project cannot expect the enthusiasm of others to last. The leader must be present to provide support, acquire resources, encourage, and, at times, dig in and work alongside his/her team, even on the most mundane of tasks. That leader is also present when the challenge has been met, in order to celebrate with his/her team. Words of inspiration are not “empty” when these leadership behaviors occur.
Each of these 4 critical skills of an effective influencer have one overriding skill – effective communication. And, if these 4 skills are developed correctly, the communication skills will come naturally.
Business fields are one of the most in-demand college majors which employers look for today, as they seek to fill management positions within their organizations. And within those college business programs, there will always be a course or two on leadership. When those courses focus on the skills of influence, graduates will have the skills they need for leading in the 21st century.
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