A powerful and misunderstood key to leadership success

By Mary Key, Ph.D.

What is influence? The movies often portray influence as making a dramatic speech at the climax of the story (complete with music swelling in the background) or making a killer presentation that convinces everyone in the room they’ve underestimated you. It’s more complex than that. Influencing is a critical competency of leadership effectiveness. It is the ability to impact others in such a way that they honor your request, take a course of action you recommend or make a change in how they behave or in their belief system. In essence, influence is getting others to take your lead.

However, influence is bi-lateral meaning that when you attempt to influence someone else it’s important to be open to their ideas and suggestions. You influence the other person and they, in turn, may influence you – so flexibility and looking for common ground are critical. For example, my friend Carol did her homework on what the car she wanted to buy should cost and was able to influence the salesperson to meet her price. He then proceeded to show her upgrades, in an attractive way, and she wound up spending $12,000 more than she planned.

Influencing is a skill, but it’s not a simple skill that you can learn once and then keep deploying in the same way, forever. It requires an adaptive mindset because you must consider the frame of reference and the needs of others to be effective at it. The situation, and environment, must be right for the other person to say yes. The person you want to influence must also have the ability to say yes and what you’re asking or suggesting should not conflict with the other person’s interests or values.

As with most progress in life, developing the skill of influencing starts with self-awareness. Are you aware of what influences you? How do others perceive you and the way you influence? Are you coming across in a way that aligns with your intent? The most successful influencers think ahead about what the other person’s influencing style is and how to address it so they can better “frame” their stance.

There are many “styles” of negotiating. Does this person like facts and figures? Do they get inspired by a compelling vision? Do they like to barter? We tend to use the influencing style that we prefer to sway others, even though that might not be their preferred style. One of the biggest mistakes people make is not understanding the frame of reference of the person they want to influence and to come from their own instead.

Once people learn what their preferred style, or styles, of influencing are, they become more attuned to observing how others are influenced. Without awareness of one’s own style, and that of the person you want to influence, your chances of being successful are slim (unless you both happen to have a similar style).

 Mary Key, Ph.D. is a leadership development expert, an executive coach and trusted advisor to organizations of all sizes. With more than 25 years of experience in helping leaders, and companies grow, she is the founder of the Key Women’s Leadership Forum, an innovative program for executive women. 

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