When technology leaders come to me for coaching, one of the key areas where they often want to improve their performance is in influence. They want more sway with their peers and stakeholders, want to have a greater impact on the vision and roadmap of the organisation, and want to avoid being seen as an order taker who simply delivers on other peoples’ agendas. However, many of them struggle to fully own their influence and/or have the effect they want. In this article, we will go beyond common approaches to influence and explore what it takes to be truly effective in this area.
I was working with a CIO recently who was concerned because a key division within the business was disregarding his advice and instead allowing their decisions to be influenced by an external software vendor. Since he was relatively new to the organisation, the CIO had not yet developed strong relationships across the business nor fully established his credibility and influence with these stakeholders. He wanted to instigate a consistent technology platform across the enterprise, and was frustrated by his inability to influence these business leaders to align with this approach.
As a result of this experience, he looked to me for a silver bullet; a quick fix that would enable him to assert his technology leadership and quickly win the attention and respect of his stakeholders and peers.
Common practice is to recommend a behavioural approach, and there is certainly plenty of material available highlighting a range of strategies and tactics people can adopt to "instantly" improve their influence. One popular reference is Robert Cialdini’s book, “Influence – the Psychology of Persuasion”, which outlines six principles that can be used to have others consider your position or argument. Cialdini underpins his principles with specific behaviours and actions, however, in my experience, these principles are often used in a manipulative way. I would suggest that it is more empowering and influential to fully own and express all that you are through who you’re Being. This was certainly the approach I explored with my CIO.
Take a moment to think about the most influential leaders you know of. Do they create their impact only through surface-level behaviours and by manipulating others, or do they inspire you by Being a demonstration of influence?
Below, I have identified five Ways of Being that we can explore and polish to enable us to be more influential not just in our work context, but in every part of our lives. They are not quick fixes or silver bullets that will bring instant change, but I have observed that, with commitment and dedication to developing yourself in these areas, you can achieve deep and profound influence. Each of these aspects is measured in the Being Profile® and Being Framework™ (developed by Ashkan Tashvir) that I use with my clients, which gives us a tangible starting point for our work together.
- Awareness – Any growth or transformation must begin with awareness. To become more influential, you must develop awareness not only of your personal strengths and weaknesses, but also of your impact on those around you. Is your communication effective? Are you expressing yourself clearly and in a way that powerfully engages your audience? Do you welcome feedback and seek to learn from your mistakes? By honing your awareness and being willing to consider different perspectives, you are more likely to make good decisions and lead in a way that values and respects others.
- Integrity – Influential leaders are effective because they have integrity in who they are being ie. they are committed to having everything in their lives working optimally and are quick to address anything that impacts their performance, trust or workability. Leaders who demonstrate integrity are also responsible, proactive and reliable, with these behaviours flowing naturally from who they are Being, rather than being something they are just doing. The impact on a business is that these leaders ensure that work happens smoothly and optimally, with a minimum of drama. They take ownership of functions and projects, delegate appropriately with clear levels of autonomy, and are able to hold others accountable for their results.
- Authenticity – Influential leaders demonstrate a high level of congruence between their words and actions, and will show up exactly the same, regardless of the context. They don’t feel the need to wear a mask or put on a fake persona, but will allow others to know who they truly are. This makes them both predictable and trustworthy, giving their people confidence and maximising influence.
- Vulnerability - Effective and influential leaders don’t pretend to have all the answers, but are willing to acknowledge their own imperfections and use their humanity to build deep relationships with others. When we are willing to be open and vulnerable, we are more able to grow our self-awareness and be fully authentic, which also enhances our access to personal power and performance. Influential leaders are less interested in looking good and more interested in how they can collaborate with their teams and stakeholders to drive critical outcomes, embracing feedback and criticism as a stepping stone to growth and higher performance.
- Commitment – Influential leaders are committed to delivering on the mission, vision and purpose of the organisation and doing so in a way that empowers their people and their customers. When leaders demonstrate commitment, they occur as reliable and trustworthy, people who will go the extra mile to deliver what they have promised. Commitment begins with a declaration but must always be followed by decisive action in pursuit of the goal.
If you want to be more influential, then you must begin with a commitment to undertake the work required to develop these Ways of Being, and then take the necessary steps to do so. Get clear on why this is important to you and how it will enhance your effectiveness and impact as a leader. And then get started.
When we build our influence from the place of who we’re Being, rather than taking a surface-level, behavioural approach, then that influence is always available to us, regardless of the situation or context. When who you are is authentic, committed and vulnerable, you will naturally inspire and enrol others in what you are about, and the impact is deeper and longer-lasting than simple behavioural control. Leaders who influence through their Being also elevate others to want to be their best and to become influential leaders themselves, creating a ripple effect that has on-going benefits.