Although I have been working in and with the field of influence for many years, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that influence, or at least the importance of influence in the business world, is a modern phenomenon. Possibly highlighted to the general public by their increased awareness via social media, influence has become one of the buzzwords of the industry, and everyone seems to be obsessed with building their brand and growing their influence.
The reality is, of course, that that marketing experts and gurus have used (and indeed paid a lot of money) to benefit from the influence of people. Celebrity endorsements are nothing other than utilizing the influence that famous people have over their fans; the vast costs of celebrity endorsements undoubtedly must provide an excellent ROI. Otherwise, their popularity would have diminished over the years, rather than continuing to grow.
The Price Of Influence
Leadership is intrinsically linked with the ability to influence your team, and this influence can be felt on a small, medium or large scale. Whether you are running a small family business, a multi-national company, or a country, the impact of your leadership will be directly linked to the amount of influence you, as a leader, can generate. Influence, however, can be expensive to establish and not necessarily in purely financial terms. Building and growing influence takes significant time, effort and investment as a leader. Influence is earned over time. For example, look at Steve Jobs - he is a man widely acknowledged to be one of the most influential people in this business generation. He went through some significant setbacks, including having the shame of being sacked from his beloved Apple, a company he had founded, before rising from the ashes to become possibly the number one business influencer of the 21st Century.
The Value of Influence
Part of the value that leaders bring to any company is the ability to influence the future direction of their company, and subsequently being able to encourage and to motivate their entire company to get behind their vision and bring it to fruition. I always think of influence like a powerful European car, maybe a BMW or Mercedes. Nearly all of their vehicles are powered by rear wheel drive, which compared to the more frequently used front wheel drive, highlights the upper echelons of leadership and influence.
Good leaders use their influence to get behind their team, to motivate, encourage and ultimately drive them forward together to their ultimate destination, which is being influential. Weak leaders with little influence have to drag their team behind them over the finish line, kicking and screaming. This type of leadership is not only destined for failure but it is also exhausting. Good leaders provide value to the company by utilizing their influence and motivating the team to work together. Nurture your team, lead by example and think of your influence as a set of muscles. To retain the ultimate definition and strength, muscles need to be used and exercised on a daily basis, and the best leaders follow this philosophy when developing, growing and maintaining their influence. Influence is highly valuable but should never be taken for granted, as many political and business leaders have learned. Treat your ability to be influential as if it was more valuable than gold because in all circumstances, it is.
The Cost Of Influence
Whenever I work with a business leader and we discuss influence, I always put a great deal of emphasis on explaining that influence is not transferable and must be earned within every facet of your life. One of the most memorable and saddest experiences of my life was when one of my clients came to me a broken person, utterly distraught and unsure of where to turn. This client's business was hugely successful; she garnered a lot of influence within her industry, and yet something had gone terribly terribly wrong.
The problem was that she had generated such an important persona within the business world, that she had fallen into the trap of believing the hype and had not put much effort into being influential rather than having influence, particularly with her son. Influence is always ready to shift, almost like water in the palm of your hand, if you don’t first become influential by being trustworthy, passionate, or courageous. If you don’t nurture being influential, then having influence will simply run through your fingers and disappear.
This particular client had neglected her son because she was so wrapped up in her busy business life. When discipline was needed, this was dished out almost to the point of extremes, but in the child’s eyes, all respect and influence had gone. The problem was that without the guiding hand of his parents, the son began to look elsewhere for influences. The son quickly became vulnerable to exploitation and attracted to the wrong type of people, namely gangs. The leaders of the gang realized and exploited this vulnerability, driving an ever-increasing wedge between the child and his parents.
This ultimately led to the young man becoming deeply involved in gang culture, being physically, mentally and emotionally scarred and eventually breaking all ties with his biological family. The emotional cost to every member of that family due to neglecting the influence the adults had ultimately led to the destruction of the family unit. Gang leaders are fully aware of the importance of influence and continuously work on their influential skills to maximize their attractiveness and leadership qualities. However, it is with ill intent.
As business people, we have become programmed to focus primarily on the financial results, but in business and life, there are other spheres in life that are equally, if not more, important. Being influential can be hugely valuable in your career, in industry and as a leader. It is critical in other parts of your life, and that should never be forgotten; otherwise, there could be a very heavy price to pay. You visit the gym daily to exercise your physical muscles, take the time and effort to ensure that you are exercising your influence muscles in every aspect of your daily life.