Practicing Influence

Organizations are looking for leaders who can effectively use influence rather than the authority of their position to achieve performance goals or gain buy-in to new initiatives. How would they recognize that skill and how do you practice it in order to be seen as that kind of leader? This kind of recognition requires you lead an initiative from within the ranks—either among peers or even to influence your leaders.

The first step is to identify one good idea (or two) that has relevance to the organization and stand a good chance for implementation.  You likely have a lot of good ideas, but you can’t put your energy into all of them. If you are constantly suggesting ideas, you dilute your impact and risk being ignored. It’s even worse if you don’t follow through on at least some of them.

It is easier to lead someone else’s initiative than it is to lead your own good idea. When we borrow other people’s ideas, especially our leaders’ ideas, we often borrow their authority too. That is, when things get tough, we tend to lean on their organizational authority, their expertise or their charisma in order to break through log jams. Leading someone else’s idea is not the same as leading your own.

Before you put it out there for general consumption, share your idea with others. Individuals who want to be influential leaders tend to have healthy egos and therefore tend to go it alone. Rather, they, and you, should work with others to advance your idea, even to the point of giving up ownership of your idea so that others can implement the change. Yes, that seems counter to ‘getting credit’ that leads to recognition, but that’s the risk of getting people to actually buying-in to your plan.

Loss of ownership–if it happens–doesn’t happen so fast that leadership and others will not recognize your contribution to getting the idea off the ground using your influence.

Passion improves your capacity to influence. But too much passion is overwhelming and increases resistance. Let your ideas soak in. If you have the opportunity to share your idea, don’t behave as if this is the only opportunity you will ever get to talk about it. The message must be simple:

  1. Introduce the problem—“Why should I care?”
  2. Talk about the future—“What will be different?”
  3. Talk about success—“What is the likelihood of success?”

Too often we try to move people from introduction to conclusion in just one conversation–as if it’s the only time we’re ever going to be able to discuss the topic. Yes, you want to do your homework and have the information, but there is no need to share everything you know in one sitting, if ever. Let people engage with your idea by asking questions and adding their own thoughts.  They need time to catch up with you.

Don’t give up.  Bringing people along takes self-regulation, patience and perseverance. Set small goals and appreciate small wins along the way to keep you from giving up too soon because you aren’t able to otherwise see the progress.

When you are tired, angry or frustrated by a  real or perceived lack of progress, don’t act on those emotions. Take good care of your health; get rest and pace yourself to have the resilience required to influence others. Finally, don’t hold onto the idea that the outcome of this one idea will determine your reputation and your future.

I’ve got a great idea. Call me and tell me about a great idea that you’d like to introduce to your group.  We’ll talk about how to practice your influence to get the idea off the ground.