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Influencers make the best leaders

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OUR world of work has shifted and changed significantly over the last decade. No matter what industry sector your organization fits, your issues and challenges are more complex, more dynamic and faster paced than ever before. In addition, organizational leaders have learned that the concept of a global economy is not just some far flung theory but instead, it has real impact right here in our city and amongst our working colleagues.

Thankfully, many businesses have been able to take advantage of new technology and in most cases, job losses are countered with new opportunities, new jobs and new careers.

However, we’ve also seen a substantial change in how people are willing to be led and how leaders try to lead. In fact, leadership is continually transitioning. Over time, we’ve seen the old strict command and control and the carrot and stick leadership approaches fall into disrepute. Team based leadership seems to be past its heyday while employee engagement is still a frequent topic of conversation. So, where is all of this going? What does it mean for organizations and for leaders?

In my view, it suggests that much more attention must be brought to bear on teaching the leadership skills needed to manage in this type of dynamic environment. Employees don’t just want to be told what to do, they want to be led, influenced, encouraged to participate and respected for their input into organizational success. When this occurs, you’ll see both the organization and the employees prosper like never before. In fact, study after study has demonstrated that engaged employees are more productive, have more positive attitudes, are more innovative and have less absenteeism. Organizations on the other hand benefit from lower employee costs and higher profitability.

I also believe that every person in an organization has the capability to lead at some level and should participate in building upon these leadership skills.

In particular, I believe that everyone should learn how to effectively persuade and influence others in the workplace. When employees and front-line leaders apply this skill, they are better team members and team leaders with more effective skills in developing and building relationships. Being able to effectively influence also helps individuals to develop and sustain relationships outside the workplace, at home or in the volunteer community.

According to Robert Cialdini, an author and researcher in the area of influence, there are a number of principles of influence that apply in every situation. This includes the principle of liking, reciprocity, social proof, consistency, authority and scarcity.

More specifically, having influence requires you to develop a network of individuals or colleagues who respect and support your work. It suggests that individuals who offer assistance without any expectation will often find support when they, too, need it. As well, people look for role models who can act as social proof and authority through consistent behavior. Finally, influence can be effective when people see their benefits as unique and/or exclusive.

On the other hand, the most effective means for a novice to become proficient at applying an influence strategy is to adopt a simple and effective influence model such as the following:


Assume everyone can be a potential ally

While many of us might perceive the person we need to influence as somewhat difficult, it is important to instead think of this person in terms of an ally. This perception will change the whole tone of how you will interact and will help to create trust. See the individual as an opportunity to build your network.


Clarify work goals and priorities

The focus here must be on "work" goals rather than personal goals. What do you need from the other person? What are your primary and secondary goals? Keep personal wants and personal goals such as being right, out of the thought process.


Understand the other person’s world

Examine your counterpart’s organizational culture, their potential pressure points and their business goals and objectives. Think about what might be important to them. How are they measured at work and what might it take to develop and influence them toward a win/win solution? Ask questions for clarification.


Become an exceptional listener

While it’s a common belief that being able to speak up and hold a conversation will create a higher level of influence, I believe that being an effective listener is equally if not more important. For instance, listening allows you to gain information about the other party’s beliefs, their personal and professional attitudes, their level of knowledge and their specific goals and objectives. Good listening enables you to build trust quickly.


Identify what really matters

When listening, you must pay attention to assessing what’s important to both parties. Take time to examine so called "currencies" such as being part of something meaningful or having the opportunity to learn new skills. Some people are influenced by the ability to gain personal recognition or the security of belonging to an elite group. Still others can be influenced simply by your own personal relationship. Typically, individuals focus on one to three personal motivators when they make a decision to follow; finding out what these are will enable you to influence.


Confirm relationship status

If you’re on good terms with an individual, you can approach them directly; however, if you don’t know the person, you need to find a way to make a connection and begin to build trust. This can be accomplished by having someone refer you to the individual and take time to find common ground.


Make sure you are understood

Once you have clarified your goals and objectives, be sure to use vocabulary and terms that the other party fully understands. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, tell a story and/or make a visual comparison, use diagrams and ensure you have easily understood facts to support your view.


Be open and flexible

Open your mind to creative options, accept unconventional and unique ideas and be curious enough to discuss these at length.

While openness might imply risk, openness also enables us to learn and grow. Being flexible and open enough to examine the potential of any and all ideas also serves to build trust.


Influence through exchange

The adage of ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’ is a common influence exchange strategy that subtly creates a sense of unconscious indebtedness. It can also include more forthright incentives or exchanges but no matter what, the strategy involves providing a benefit to the other party, even when you may not have the same values. Take the initiative and make the first move in this exchange.

Being a leader, no matter what level or what role, requires that you develop the skill of influencing others. Known as a ‘soft or pull tactic’, it requires more time and energy, but this approach is much less forceful and instead serves to build trusting relationships, develop personal employee accountability and more successful overall employee engagement.

Our world of work has shifted and changed significantly such that today we are confronted with more complex and more dynamic challenges. In my view, employee engagement is the longterm solution and the strategy is ensuring our leaders are strong influencers.


Source: The Influence Model: Using Reciprocity to Gain Influence, Mind Barbara J. Bowes is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 24, 2013 H1

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