How Women Leaders Can Have More Influence

VP or CEO to gain cooperation and buy-in for your ideas. Fast forward to today, with more autonomy in the workplace, loads of distractions, information overload, and an empowered workforce it’s easy to see why it takes more than a title to move the dial and get things done. And if you find yourself working across lateral lines with people who you have no authority over, then you need a new tool in your toolbox to get things done called Influence.

Make no mistake, if you’re in charge of a business, project, key initiative, or team, influence can help you get people such as stakeholders, clients, and employees to listen and support your ideas. If you want a profitable business or the corner office in your company, the ability to influence is a skill that will help you land there faster than most. Why?

Because organizations, brands, and clients want to be associated with people who make things happen, the right things for their businesses, goals, or most important needs.

Influence is alive and well used in every corner of the world from politics, pop culture, commerce, and philanthropy. Think about it…what advertisement lately has caused you to buy a product or donate to a cause. Influence is all around us every day from Beyoncewhose music impacts a generation of young women who aspire to be like her, or JK Rowlings whose books have become a cultural touchstone to adults and children, or Malala Yousafazai, whose courage and perseverance brought attention around the world to women’s education rights. Influence can open the door for deeper dialogues, create a bridge of understanding, shift mindsets, and illuminate new possibilities. From a business leadership perspective, when done with the right intent, influence has the power to:

- Gain cooperation

- Foster higher levels of trust

- Strengthen your credibility as a leader

- Build solid relationships

- Get things done

- Engage people’s heart, mind, and spirit

-What does it take to influence?

Whether you consciously considered it or not, you’ve influenced others such as your spouse, partner, child, teammate, or boss. Here are five proven ways to increase your influence.

1. Lead with Warmth

Most people view influence as either being assertive and authoritarian or warm and diplomatic. A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence—and to lead—is to begin with warmth. Warmth breaks down the barriers to trust and communication so that others are more receptive to new ideas, attitudes, and beliefs. It creates a connection between your humanity and others. This connection establishes a bond, which acts as the catalyst at a minimum to hear your thoughts and proposed actions. Often we fall to the task-oriented side of business with a preference for showing strength and competence to get things done. By focusing on the people side with genuine warmth, you engage in a way that demonstrates you are trustworthy and sincere. Taking care of the human side of business invariably takes care of the tasks.

Warmth can show up as an active listener who takes the time to understand concerns and beliefs; the skilled questioner who probes for a deeper understanding of personal motivations; and the relationship builder who establishes a rapport based on genuine interest and respect.

2. Focus on your Circle of Influence

When it comes to influence, it's important to understand what you can and cannot influence. Stephen R. Covey taught about the Circle of Influence - the things that concern us encompass much more than what we are able to do anything about. Within those things that concern us, there are those things that we have the capacity, and are in a position to actually do something about; this is your circle of influence. Consider how much time and energy is wasted by people focusing on things they can do nothing about. Better use of time and energy is to focus on your circle of influence. Consider these questions.

- What aspects are you already influencing? - What has been done in the past that has worked? And what hasn’t worked?- Are you the best person to bring this new idea forward? - Whose support do you need?- Where is this on your list of priorities?

3. Address Personal Motivations

Being able to identify and show that you understand a person’s motivation is a crucial step of influence that helps others feel valued and understood. Daniel Pink, the author of Drive, breaks down motivation into these 3 categories: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. If you want to appeal to someone who is motivated by autonomy, don’t be a dictator, telling them what to do or how to do it. Help them see that their own accountability to deliver on commitments is important, but don’t overstep and tell them how they should do it. Engage them in the “how to” from the very start. If purpose is a motivation, help them see their own key role in the accomplishment of the larger goal, tie their engagement and performance to a higher sense of purpose and community. For mastery, you want to reaffirm the crucial role their skills play in the success of the initiative. Convey why their skills are needed and what it provides for the end goal. This appeals to their desire to be great at what they do and be recognized for it.

The best way to determine a person’s motivations is by being an active listener and observer. Then, ask yourself this question:

- How can you best demonstrate that you understand and value their motivations?

4. Seek Endorsements

Not just any endorsement but the endorsement of other influential leaders. You see this strategy played out every day on social media. If you want an example, study the Kardashians, who make millions through monetized posts for beauty, travel, and fashion brands. Businesses leverage the influence of celebrities to get their client's attention and hopefully at some point a sale.

We’ve all heard about the receptionist or assistant that’s the gatekeeper to the executive in the C-suite. This person doesn’t necessarily have a formal leadership title, but you can bet your summer vacation this person is what I’m referring to as an influential leader. How do you know? This person can cause other to acts with a mere phone call or email. For example, the executive assistant can say to her boss, “Anne came by and wanted to talk about sponsorship for her corporate event. She explained it to me and it sounds great, probably something you should consider.” With just that slight mention, doors are opened and the wheels are set in motion.

- Who are the influential leaders in your company and business?

Follow the breadcrumb trail to notice who moves other to act or when they talk people listen. Once you identify other influential leaders, enlist their support as early in the process as possible. They can provide early guidance and direction to get others on board.

5. Leverage the Currency of Reciprocity

You’ve heard of pay it forward?

- Identify an experience where someone went out of their way to assist you?

- How did that make you feel?

Now, reciprocation is not a bribe or even a negotiation, at that. The point is not to ask someone for something in return or condition your help and generosity on what you hope to receive in return. Though this is the stuff many political campaigns are made of, we’re looking at this from a different perspective. Instead, you can anticipate what others will want or need and do what you can to give that to them. You can try to preempt them from asking you for something, fulfill your commitments ahead of schedule, and give them more than they ask for. When you cultivate the habit of giving people what they want and need before you expect or ask them to supply your wants and needs, you build loyalty and support.

Yes, as you focus on contributing to others and helping them with their responsibilities, not everyone will reciprocate. You have to look at your habit of helping and making contributions in the aggregate though. Teresa de Grosbois, author of Mass Influence, pointed out that “If the influential person you are building a relationship with does not offer back, one of two things is happening: (1) they are not a fit and you can move on, or (2) your levels of influence are so different, you need more investment first.

And, one report by McKinsey and Company said, “Evidence from studies led by Indiana University demonstrates that the frequency with which employees help one another predicts sales revenues in retail stores; profits, costs, and customer service in banks; creativity in consulting and engineering firms; productivity, revenues, operating efficiency, customer satisfaction, and performance quality overall.” As an influential leader across and outside your organization, realize that by taking the initiative to help them first, you will promote this sentiment of reciprocation on a larger scale. The effect of your individual influence will be multiplied many times over.

Part of having a meaningful career is the ability to have a positive impact on the people, businesses, and lives you touch. Don’t shy away from being intentional about building your platform as a leader of influence. If you have ideas, best practices, or ways of doing business that serve in a positive way, then you owe it to yourself and others to ensure your ideas are heard, recognized, and implemented.

About the Author: Michele Thompson Rosario, CEO of Bright Effects, helping entrepreneurs get clients, get traffic, and get results.

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