In a culture where seniority and titles are indicators of power, you might be forgiven for thinking that authority alone is what makes someone a leader. In fact, effective leadership - if we want to take people beyond compliance - relies much more heavily on the ability to influence well. As leaders - people in authority - there are many different ways to influence people. If we tell employees that they need to raise their game or they'll soon be out the door, that's one way to influence. Of course, this particular type of influence is driven by fear and coercion - it might be effective to a degree in the short term, but it's not going to do you or the organisation any good in the long run.
Remember: employees talk within and outside the organisation. They are your best marketers.
Source: Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay
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To influence well means taking on the role of servant leadership - putting your people first, rather than the company's bottom line. Effective leaders know that, when they look after their people, everything else improves. By focusing on your most important assets, you get the best results. This is something that most leaders know - intellectually, at least. So why does it remain difficult for some to positively influence the people within their organisation?
To influence people in the right way, it's crucial to learn how to be a good listener. It's near impossible to be a good influence on others if you have little or no idea about what they need and what motivates them. And yet, research indicates that leaders can be stuck in the outdated mindset of what it means to lead. To some, listening to employees makes them appear weak and unsure when, actually, leaders who are sincere in their desire to really listen to others are those who gain prestige and respect among their employees.
The ability to listen well is the foundation to influencing your people well. By hearing what's being said, a leader can gain valuable insights into problems and concerns; motivations and desires; ideas and innovations; and, they gain a deeper understanding of the people they work alongside.
"Working alongside" is important. As a servant leader, the buck might stop with you in terms of the ultimate decision-making; however, as Steve Jobs once said, "You have to be run by ideas, not hierarchies". If you're going to influence people to consistently deliver results to a high standard, a servant leader - and one who influences well - sees themselves not as someone "in charge" of the business but rather someone who's in charge of making sure people have whatever they need to do their job well. This might take time and effort, however, there will be few investments that will return more favourably to the organisation.
Here are some other tips you can deploy to help you be a real influencer - a leader who takes their people beyond compliance (doing the minimal required) and toward innovative engagement:
Take the Time to Know Your Key Players' Motivations
No one cares about your business as much as you do - and nor should they. To expect someone to feel as intensely invested in the business you built or lead is a fantasy. Contrary to the ideal that everyone works together for a shared purpose, your top talents will have their own personal motivations and if you take time to understand those motivations - and help them toward realising them - you're more likely to retain your best managers and performers.
What do your people really want? Are they driven by money? Do they want to grow within the company? Do they want to start their own, eventually? Whatever it is, find out what really drives your people and commit to helping them achieve their ambitions. There is no better way to demonstrate their importance to you, and they will repay your commitment several times over - even when they eventually leave.
Deliver Value to Your People
Besides knowing and assisting people in their motivations, what can you do as a leader to offer your people value as a matter of course on a daily basis? People are most influenced by those who they resonate with and connect to on a personal level. Whether it's a coffee catch-up to see how someone's doing, lending your professional skills or mentoring - or even taking the time to regularly ask people about their lives and what's going on with them - when you show you care, your employees will be more likely to follow you in whatever path you set for the team or organisation.
Admit When You Get It Wrong
This is another misconception that some leaders hold: by admitting mistakes, you look incompetent and weak. That's true if all you do is make mistakes (which actually points to incompetence). However, leaders who can hold their hands up on occasion and offer an unequivocal, "I got this wrong - what can we do to fix this?" not only appear more confident and secure, they also gain further respect by showing they're just as fallible as everyone else. And when you seek advice and assistance from others, it demonstrates that you genuinely have the team - and your people's interests - at heart.
These are just some of the ways we as leaders can influence our employees well. If an organisation is led by a leader who is perceived to be uncaring and uninterested in their team (caring only that the job gets done), then the culture itself will evolve to be indifferent and disengaged. Employees who stick around will coast and collect their paychecks, while those who really help to drive the successes will soon plan their exit strategies.
When we take the time to really listen, learn people's motivations, offer them value, and hold our hands up when necessary, that's when we gain sufficient trust, respect, and solidarity from our colleagues - and that's when we truly develop our ability to influence others well, lead and empower those we work alongside to achieve great things.
Continue your journey with us by checking out this video on The 4 Areas of Mastery/Skills: Personal, Business, Functional & Leadership which great leaders master!