If you do any Internet research on leadership and influence, you’re very soon going to come across the quote by John Maxwell that says, “Leadership is influence”.
How, then, can you increase your influence to be an effective and successful leader?
While leadership is a lot more than just influence, it is important for you to grow your influence if you wish to lead people to a better future – the key to all leadership.
Typical advice being dished out to people wanting to grow their influence includes things like, “Network aggressively”, “Know what you want”, “Do what you say you’re going to do”, “Show your appreciation to others”, “Be consistent”, “Accept responsibility”, “Have a vision” and “Ask the right questions”, among many others.
While these are all well and good, they treat influence as a fairly simplistic thing that can be achieved by following a few steps. That’s because those steps are easier to tell people rather than to tell them the true secret to influence.
Influence is wrapped up in one word. While it may seem simple, it’s certainly not easy because that one word contains highly complex things that need to be addressed not on a step by step (linear) basis but by non-linear methods where you’re doing two, three or more things at the same time, parallel to one another, and not able to follow a step by step approach.
The one word I am referring to is “relationship”. Simply put, your level of influence in any one’s life is directly proportional to the quality of the relationship you have with them.
Literature dealing with growing influence often refers to the fact that “nobody is born with influence”. While that sounds valid on the surface, I challenge the validity of that statement. Think about it. How are we born? As babies. And babies born into the lives of couples who want them exert a LOT of influence in their parents’ lives. They have their parents hopping, bopping and skipping on a 24 hour basis. Why? Because of relationship – the fact that they have a relationship with two adults who happen to be their mother and father.
I make this point to emphasise the importance of relationship in growing your influence. Leaders who have no relationship with the people they’re supposed to be leading will not have much influence in those people’s lives.
Now, you might say, “So what?” If employees are being paid to do a job, they are expected to do what their leader tells them to do. After all, the leader has the authority to tell them what to do. I can’t argue with that logic, but how does one explain the masses of disengaged employees? How do you account for the low levels of productivity from employees who are SUPPOSED to be doing what they’re told to do at work?
There are a number of reasons for this. One of them is the fact that authority no longer rests in the position of the leader but in the person of the leader. In the old model of leadership, people had to respect you because of your position. Today, if they don’t respect you as a person, you may be the president of the country but you will receive no respect and have no influence in their lives, and you will end up with disengaged workers or citizens who don’t respect your authority.
Other factors that flow from relationship include trust, affection and a shared vision. When you enjoy a warm, constructive relationship with people, they will trust you and, when that happens, they will naturally be influenced by you. The same applies to affection. As people trust and respect you, they will want to please you and engage in working towards a shared vision – a vision that you have imparted to them.
When people have a relationship with the person who is leading them, when they feel a connection with them and affection for them, when they respect that person’s authority, when they share similar values and similar goals, they will genuinely want to please, and really want to go the extra mile. That’s another way of describing engaged employees.
Start working on your relationships with the people you lead. Listen to them and show, by the way you respond, that you have listened to them. Don’t expect a quick fix, though. It takes time to build trust. Once you have acquired influence in people’s lives, the responsibility is on you to handle that influence wisely. Influence, like trust, takes time to build but can be lost in a moment!
Alan Hosking is the Publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag. He is a recognised authority on leadership skills for the future and helps business leaders learn to lead with purpose and agility.