Being a successful leader in business involves a combination of multiple skill sets. You have responsibilities to your team, superiors, partners, and stakeholders, and you have business and personal brands to manage and promote. You can’t do it alone; you need to engage, encourage and inspire to accomplish most of your goals. To do this, you need to develop your ability to influence. In business, this means being able to shape and transform the opinions and actions of others.
Influence and Social Capital
Just like the tree that falls in the forest, your gifts as a leader may not have an impact if you don’t have the ability to influence. As you grow your team and your network, you need to consider how best to achieve your goals when you need others to agree, support, or participate in them. As you accumulate connections, consider budgeting your increasing social capital so that you can leverage it to its greatest effect. This means you need to pick your battles and your troops with care.
Who Are You Trying to Influence?
One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to engaging and influencing people around you. When thinking about your target audience, take personality types into account. An extrovert on your team might shine in a meeting where you make a point to give them the opportunity to connect. On the other hand, an introverted board member might prefer well-detailed emails to live or virtual encounters.
As a business leader, eyes are on you. Your actions and opinions carry additional weight, which needs to be carried with caution. An offhand remark may have unintended consequences, and an off day for you might impact your entire team. Understanding your impact allows you to exercise a measure of control, so you can pick when and where you want your influence to be felt. Acting with intention, and choosing your context lends additional power to your influence.
Right Currency to Influence
To effectively influence, the personality of your target is complemented by their motivations and perspective. A leader takes time to identify what drives the individuals in their close circles — their team, stakeholders, and immediate network. To effectively drive their own goals and priorities, a leader considers those of their circles and adapts their style, their ask, and their rationale to effectively reach them. Where one person might want delegated authority to effectuate a finance-focused outcome, another might relish an opportunity to learn something new that has an underlying social justice theme. The more a leader tailors their goals to the currency used by their circles, the more effective their influence.
Wanting to connect and engage authentically takes thought and preparation. The annual Apple Events have become a worldwide focus on a company that understands the importance of performance and planning when influencing demand for their products. Leaders need to look for opportunities to accomplish their ends by influencing the right people in the right way. This may feel manipulative, but a better way to think about it is the intentional activation of emotional intelligence. Leaders do not succeed on their own, so being effective in marshaling their resources has to include the human quotient.
One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is to ask “What would motivate me to …?” The real question is, “If I was in that person’s shoes, walking their journey, what would reach me most effectively.” Influence has to engage with the person being influenced, and this begins with understanding one’s goal and working to achieve it by understanding one’s effect on others.
Jen Dalton is a personal brand specialist with entrepreneurship in her DNA. Her book, Listen: How To Embrace the Difficult Conversations Life Throws at You, is an insightful guide into navigating tough talks. She helps business owners and executives define how they show up as leaders, make the most of their strengths, and tend to their legacy, growth, and visibility. The author of two books, frequent speaker, podcaster, and “Purpose Sherpa,” Jen is a critical resource for any person or company that wants to define their brand and differentiate themselves in authentic, credible, and relevant ways to the market.