Influence and authority are two critical components that can and will affect your success in life, both in your career and within your personal life. Authority is the equivalent of a powerful diesel engine that can deliver results by brute force, but influence is the oil that makes things run smoothly.
Having authority does not necessarily guarantee that you will have influence, but it is possible to garner and to build influence when you have no authority. Authority is given to you by other people; influence is much more subtle, and needs to be earned continuously from the start of your career all the way through to the end.
Why Influence Matters
I want to illustrate this by talking about a meeting I was involved in many years ago. The company I worked for at the time had about 100 employees, and “John,” one of the managers at the meeting had responsibility for about fifty of those employees. Also present at the meeting was a soft-spoken manager, “Peter,” who had garnered a reputation as a problem solver and a reliable, supportive leader. In terms of senior managers within the company, John had the authority, but Peter had the influence.
This became very apparent during the meeting; when John spoke, people became distracted, they started doodling on their note pads, and it was blatantly obvious that John didn’t have the respect of the staff.
By comparison, the second Peter began to talk, the audience gave him their undivided attention, holding on to his every word. During the course of that one meeting, I was reminded of the importance of influence.
Every leader has authority, but only the best leaders have influence. There will be many times in life when you are in situations without sufficient authority, so let’s examine how anyone can influence and inspire others even when they have no official authority.
The Importance Of Explanation
As a leader, there will occasionally be times when difficult and unpopular decisions need to be made, and then those decisions are relayed to the staff. Most, if not all, people are resistant to change, but true leaders can use their framing and delivery style to influence the reactions of the staff. Think of situations where you have had to receive unwelcome change at work. Although the end result may be the same, the way in which you were informed can drastically change your reaction.
Explain the reason behind the changes clearly, including the alternatives if those changes are not implemented. Although people may still not be happy about the decision, understanding the implications of not doing anything will be more likely to create a more positive acceptance and implementation moving forward.
Highlight the positive aspects of the changes; when people receive unwanted news, they are naturally inclined to focus on the negative.
Put yourself in the position of your staff to gain an understanding of how they may be feeling.
In many of these situations as the manager, you are simply the bearer of the bad news; you did not make the decision, you simply have to implement it. But the respect and methods you use to deliver this information can ensure that your staff remain motivated and compelled to implement those changes positively.
The Importance of Knowing Your Audience
As a leader who wants to be influential in the eyes of his/her team, it is important to understand the motivations of your staff. I call this the Carrot and Stick principle.
The Carrot - Both of these analogies relate to a donkey. (I’m not saying you or your team are donkeys - just go with me). For some people, having a carrot placed in front of them creates a goal to aim for, which will motivate and encourage them to work harder. Criticism will not only create negative implications for these types of people but also may even create anger and frustration as well as disillusionment. This will destroy your influence with them and reduce productivity.
The Stick - The polar opposite of the carrot, these people need to be pushed and monitored to ensure they keep working to their full capacity. To influence these staff, you need to be much stricter but have a more invasive management style.
Don't Expect Gaining Influence To Be A One Time Deal
However great your argument, however valid your reasons, sometimes when you do not have the authority to drive changes through, you will need to learn the value of persistence.
Perhaps you have come up with the greatest marketing concept in the company's history, but your boss simply won't implement it. This is the perfect example of how you can grow and build you influence with him or her to convert your idea into reality.
Don't give up at the first hurdle! Evaluate the reasons why your first pitch was ignored or turned down and come up with other methods and strategies to better explain your points.
Always Remember That Control Is Mostly An Illusion
Look back over your life and assess and evaluate the best managers you have had and worked for. Although it may not have seemed so at the time, managers who gained your respect and dedication were probably those who created the best work environment, and they were not the type of manager who wanted to rule with an iron fist. By laying the correct foundations, unknown to you, these managers were influencing your opinions and using that influence rather than their authority to deliver the required result. The alternative would be to raise your voice or adopt a more aggressive leadership style, but this invariably leads to resentment, and rather than encouraging work, it can quickly become detrimental to what you are trying to achieve.
A Little Care and Interaction Goes A Long Way
Never fall into the trap of treating people based purely on what they can deliver for you or the company. Treat people with respect, and show an interest in their life as well. This small investment of your time will reap huge rewards; it is one of my number one tips and is perhaps the easiest way to increase your influence. The more respect you show others, the more respect you will get back, yet this simple human interaction is rarely utilized by the vast majority of leaders.
Roll Up Your Sleeves and Lead By Example
Another excellent way to ingratiate yourself with your team is to roll up your sleeves and help them during busy periods, or when deadlines need to be reached. I have a friend who was working for a company that had a new CEO come in to lead. Their main break area had not seen any new paint in thirty years, and yet when they came into work the following Monday, it was painted and looked fantastic. The CEO had gone out and purchased new paint and asked all of the senior management to give up their weekend free of charge to decorate our restroom. That was such a small thing to do, but it earned him huge respect and admiration within the company for many months. People wanted to work for him, people liked him and even though that happened many years ago, my friend still remembers it to this day. That was perhaps a powerful way of how to use influence, without the need for authority. The CEO just happened to have authority, but he gained influence with that servant act.
You Can Grow Your Influence
Gaining influence is not a subject that is taught in school,, and it is a skill which very few people ever master. That is, until now. The Keller Influence Indicator® provides a real-time benchmark of your current Influence, measured by the Seven Influence Traits ™. Once you understand where you are in terms of your influence, you can then utilize the Keller Institute’s additional resources to grow your influence through developing each trait. You will quickly notice the benefits within the workplace. Never underestimate the power of influence, for once you’ve mastered it, it will serve you well throughout the rest of your life.