The Path to Influence

By Fran LaMattina, MCC, PhD. Many of us have succeeded over the years in expanding our professional stature by utilizing our “positional authority.” Positional authority is just what it says: the authority afforded to us because of the position or title we hold in an organization. It is derived from being a responsible and competent leader as deemed by those in authority above us. Typically, the higher our position, the greater our authority and the more people have a tendency to follow our direction.

Most of us have noticed that, although positional authority is still alive and well, it is less likely to be the ticket to influence within an organization. Complexity of organizational structures, globalization, technological advances, generational differences, and unexpected circumstances have blurred people even knowing how the organizational structure works. It’s not the primary reason people are engaged in their work life, or even make it their reason to follow the leader. Sometimes this is to their peril.

The more “elegant” way to engage others in organizational dynamics is through influence rather than positional authority. Influence requires respect, trust, and a high regard for the other person. It takes the other from a place of, “I have to do this to meet my boss’ directives,” to “I get to participate in something important.” We willingly and more purposefully participate in the goals and dynamics of the organization. Influence enables us to lead others who may be peers, bosses, people in other departments, vendors, and other constants whose cooperation is necessary for us to be successful. It truly enhances employee engagement, a place everyone desires their employees to willingly embrace.

So, how do we advance from positional authority to influence? Influence requires respect for the other person, first and foremost. Addressing them from a personal place of believing the best in them. Listening to their questions and concerns before expecting them to comply with your directive. Simon Sinek, in his best-selling book, Start with Why, offers the principle that people are more likely to buy in to a project if they fully know the “why” behind the request. Stephen Covey, author of the mega best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, illustrates that, if we practice the habit of seeking first to understand rather than be understood, we will be far more effective in everything we do. He emphasizes the importance of listening and asking questions from a place of curiosity and respect for the other person to be key to our effectiveness. Avoiding blame, shame, talking over another, excluding another from an important meeting, and denying input to a project that a person is responsible to bring across the finish line are examples of disrespect that mitigate influence. From a common sense perspective, treating others as we would like to be treated is a springboard to the other person feeling respected and valued.

The second behavior in enhancing our influence is through developing and sustaining the other person’s trust. Typically, we trust another if they do what they say and consistently behave in a predictable manner. We know them, and know how reliable they may be in completing projects, how resilient they may be under stress, or even how truthful they may be about their assessment of what they perceive as reality. Patrick Lencioni, in his landmark work, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, says that true trust in another goes beyond those “table stakes.” Patrick Lencioni talks about vulnerability-based trust, which results from honesty about our strengths and struggles, our missed commitments (preferably presented in time to remedy them, if possible), our rudeness under stress, and our inappropriately ambitious calls that interfere with team respect. Trust develops and grows over time, and our focus on others rather than ourselves is a sure way to deepen the relationships with our teammates and gain influence with them. It also gives them pause to offer us understanding when we admit when we’ve not met our own standards of performance, which we all do from time-to-time.

A life of respect for others and increasing levels of trust over time paves the way to influence. People want to work for us because they see us as leaders worth following. They know we will chose to treat them as a person of value, providing opportunities to develop their skills and relational effectiveness to progress in their careers. They know they will be included in the meetings they need to attend, that their hopes and desires and professional input will be considered when needed. They know that their personal lives will be considered as more important than their work lives, and work-life balance isn’t a nice thing to talk about, it’s a principle that is lived out each day as assignments are determined. It makes them want to work harder, improve efficiencies, and become more of an asset to the organization rather than focusing on collecting a paycheck. They know that, by observing our behavior, they too can become a person of influence themselves.

To learn more about developing your leadership skills, including respect, trust, and influence, schedule a consultation with Fran.