What makes an influential leader? Leadership is undoubtedly something of a buzzword these days with countless books, courses and essays on the subject, and with good reason too.
Leadership is an essential component of success, from managing your sales team to the running of an entire organisation. Not having someone to lead the way is like driving to an unknown destination without a map.
However, there is a difference between influential leadership and using a totalitarian style of management. Leadership evolved throughout the ages, and where it was once the norm to rule with an iron fist, the same approach is not as effective today. You could argue that it’s even counter-productive.
Influence is the key ingredient of outstanding leadership today, and the central topic we will explore in this article.
In particular, we will look at the role influence plays in the workplace and how it’s needed over authority and positional power. Moreover, we will look at the qualities of influential leaders and how you can apply this to yourself.
What is influential leadership and how does one become more influential?
An influential leader is someone people look up to, respect and trust to guide them towards their desired results. Instead of coercing or forcing their team, the influential leader empowers their people and leads by example.
As a result, staff become more engaged in their work and are less likely to seek to undermine your authority, which leads to better outcomes. Undoubtedly, being an influential leader helps shape a healthy workplace culture. This, in turn, improves the business’s growth and profitability.
So far so good, but how does one become more influential?
A good starting point is to begin with the little things, something so basic as remembering people’s names and taking a personal interest in them. I know, ground breaking advise right, well basic yes, but so powerful for building influence.
Imagine, for example, a high-level executive addressing an intern by their first name one day and then casually enquiring about their weekend plans. This sense of recognition doesn’t just make the intern feel valued, it shows that your company’s management respects all levels of staff, leading to greater loyalty and engagement.
Influential leaders get to know their people. Demonstrating a genuine interest in your employees and showing that you care about them is a sure-fire way to get the most out of them.
It’s not just about their personal lives either. In a recent study, employees noted support from management and leadership as the topmost important aspect of company culture, followed by opportunities for professional development.
Show interest in your staff’s professional development and you will see team members flourish, determined to prove to you their strengths and overcome their weaknesses so that they stay in your mind for future opportunities.
What else can I do to become more influential? Let’s dig a little deeper.
Have a clear and compelling destination
As a leader, it is essential that you know what the end-game is and that you communicate it clearly to your team. An influential leader must have a clear vision of the bigger picture and all the parts that contribute to its achievement.
Ask yourself, “where are we going?” Be as crystal clear as you can in your definition of what this looks like and how you will measure it. It will enable you to identify and communicate the roles individuals play in achieving this vision and their unique strengths and weaknesses that can contribute to meeting this.
It will also help you identify whether you have a skills gap that needs plugging in your next recruitment drive or internal training programmes. In turn, you will encourage your team towards goals that benefit the entire organisation.
Learn. Grow. Thrive.
To stay at the forefront, leaders should never stop learning. Elon Musk for example grew up reading two books a day. Warren Buffet spends up to six hours per day reading newspapers and corporate reports. The best business minds are always striving to acquire a deeper understanding.
Reflecting on and implementing management and leadership theory should be integral to your own professional development, so invest a little time in getting to grips with books such as ‘The Effective Executive‘ by Peter Drucker, which outlines the best way to use your time effectively and the art of decision making.
Because influential leaders are continually investing in themselves, it’s important you update your certifications and qualifications to grow your own expertise. The key takeaway here? Upskill. The more you know and the greater your competence, the more you are able to help others.
Consequently, they will respect you more. If they’re assigned a task, and they can see proof that you’ve already had the experience of doing the job, they will admire you and respect your request.
Beyond that, ensure that you do your homework in your industry and always be prepared. Leaders stay informed through continual market research, analysis, and trend spotting, as well as from attending events and conferences and networking with colleagues and other influential leaders.
Experiential learning is just as essential, if not more so. Interrogate and evaluate what went right and what went wrong after crucial decisions were made, determine what all the possible outcomes could have been and learn from those results. In short, fail forward.
Practise organisational intelligence
What exactly is organisational intelligence? Organisational intelligence measures the intellectual capacity of a company. Think of it like I.Q. but for an entire organisation.
Roughly half of corporate performance is a result of a company’s ability to respond to change and complexity intelligently. Savvy leaders have a clear, bigger picture vision, but they are agile enough to quickly adapt to change.
Make yourself available to your team members. Let them know that the door is open whether it’s by ‘corridor chats’, drop-ins or more formal meetings. Help people by being a resource, an outlet, a safe place to talk. They need to know you are on their side if you want them to respect you.
Recognise and praise good work—practise empathy. Advocate for them and listen to them. True leadership involves leveraging your influence for your team members’ benefit. They will love you for it.
You’ll be amazed at how much showing appreciation for your staff’s good work goes towards them producing more of the same.
What are the qualities of an influential leader?
They model high standards
Influential leaders set a high bar for themselves and never settle for less. They persist toward perfection and they remain steadfast in the belief that there is always something new to be learned.
Managers and leaders are the closest representation of a company’s ethos that employees engage with, so make sure you fully embody the values and policies of your organisation.
Influential people draw others to them by being passionate, engaging, trustworthy and demonstrating integrity. They inspire others to believe in them by setting high expectations of themselves, and others.
They are optimistic
Optimistic leaders – or those with a Theory Y leadership style rather than Theory X – are open-minded and expect positive outcomes; they work to boost team morale rather than ruling with fear of the consequences of getting something wrong.
Even with a negative result they will try and find the positives any opportunity to come of it while rectifying or addressing the issue, whether that’s the opportunity to learn from one’s mistakes by negotiating differently with a stakeholder in future, or taking the opportunity to acknowledge the capacity of the team if deadlines or agreements weren’t able to be fulfilled.
Such optimism and resilience is contagious and allows team members to know they are part of a supportive working environment.
They are determined
Influential leaders focus on what really matters — long-term goals and the bigger picture. They have a laser-like focus on making sure the end result is achieved to the highest standards as far as is reasonable.
In short, influential leaders are committed to the cause and willing to not just leverage the best talent but also put the hard yards in to make it happen, knowing that it doesn’t just benefit the team but helps achieve the organisation’s KPIs as well for a brighter future.
How influential are you?
Self-reflection is one of the most important skills of any influential leader to acquire. Can you relate to much of what has been discussed or do you feel like you aren’t doing enough in some areas?
If so, ask yourself what you can start working on and how can you begin doing it. As previously mentioned, there are several areas to learn and improve on leadership.
Although reading books on leadership is a great way to acquire knowledge, remember that if you want the best out of your team and organisation, then you must have your staff on your side.
That means influencing and motivating, inspiring and empowering them to do their best work for you. Be the boss everyone loves, not despises.
Improving your role as an influential leader
Ultimately, influential leadership means being the person you would like your team to be. It requires leading by example and standing out as an example for others to see. If your team sees you going the extra mile, they are more likely to follow suit.
If you take long boozy lunches and your staff hardly see you, they will perceive you as uninterested and unfit to lead.
Leadership is not about telling others what to do. It’s about generating the right company culture which incorporates everyone and allows you to move towards a better, collective destination.
Authority alone does not make you a leader. Influential leaders encourage and motivate others to join them for the same purpose.
They say leaders are born, not made, yet everyone has leadership potential within them. Once you understand the concept of influence, it will help with your ability to lead a team without the need for hard-line authority.
Final thought: The power of influence
Influence is a subtle yet incredibly powerful tool. Although you can demand of someone to carry out a task, you cannot order them to deliver their best work. But when you have truly become an influential leader, you will often find that not only do employees routinely give you their best work, they will offer it up without you even needing to ask.
While it is not an easy road to acquire your new influential leadership superpower, the more experience you have honing the constituent parts, the swifter it will all come together.
Eventually, you’ll find yourself the agile leader you dreamed of being. Once you reach this point, it becomes easier to face challenges and make in-the-moment decisions. Leading with influence will feel natural and be a highly rewarding experience.
Thank you for reading this article, your comments and insights are welcome.
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