The Art of Influence and Executive Presence

BulbThink about someone you know who is great at influencing people. Now think about someone you know with a strong sense of executive presence (however you might define it). Does the same person come to mind? The power of influence is both an element, and an outcome, of executive presence.

If your “influence” is based on a job title or a particular place in the organizational chart, you are not really influencing anyone — you’re a boss. People are following your directives because you have formal authority. True influence is informal leadership at its best. It is the ability to define, shape, and convince others to adopt your position, your ideas, and your initiatives. A genuinely influential person is also one that others look to for direction, counsel, and support for their ideas and initiatives.

“Strengthening executive presence and developing a person’s ability to influence is something we often work on in an executive coaching engagement,” said Maren Perry, president of Arden Coaching. “Beyond the power to supervise and direct, someone’s job title means little. There’s a big difference between exercising authority and exercising influence.”

Similarly, functional expertise does not translate into influence. “You may be the smartest software developer in the room, but without influence, your ideas won’t get heard and won’t be embraced.”

Five Tips For Building Influence

1. Listen first, convince later. We all place great value on being heard. The more you focus your attention on the other person and listen to what they are saying before you make your case, the more profound and positive your impact will be. This especially true in a world where people are increasingly distracted and have shorter and shorter attention spans. For more about listening, read Arden Coaching’s “Beyond Active Listening: The Power of Level Three Listening.”

2. Pleasant and friendly makes a difference. Likability is important. Research demonstrates that leading with sincere warmth is more effective than leading with shows of strength and authority. Claims of “I’m the senior project manager here,” or “It’s my budget” may get you some short-term wins, but it won’t build your influence.

We respond positively to people we connect with and find easy to like. The more likable you are, the better your chances are of being heard, and that people will trust there’s no hidden agenda driving your idea or your point of view.

3. Create for win-win. Wherever possible frame your ideas, point-of-view, and recommendations in terms of the value and benefits to others and the organization. Use the word “we” more than “I.” Done honestly and transparently, you’ll influence more people when they understand that benefits extend to them and the organization as a whole.

4. Pay more attention to your body language. Most of us have heard that when we communicate, it is estimated that 55% of communication is conveyed through body language, 38% is tone of voice, and 7% is the content of the words spoken. We’ve experienced this ourselves and know it intuitively.

Yet, in the heat of the moment, we tend to abandon self-awareness of our own body language. Stand up straight! Don’t slouch. Keep your arms uncrossed. Make eye contact. Perry says “Executive coaching provides a framework and the accountability needed to develop good body language skills, engage in positive practices, and establish the habit of good body language.”

5. Be a big thinker. Influencers aim higher. They are bolder and are not afraid to create a vision and make it theirs. Do it positively and authentically. Others are attracted to big-picture people. In addition, thinking big builds self-confidence — itself an important ingredient of executive presence and influence.

For more, read “Executive Presence: From Emotional Intelligence to Body Language.”

To learn more about influence, executive presence, and executive coaching, contact us at [email protected] or 646.844.2233.