Breaking Down the Barriers to Influence

By a show of hands, how many of you have a membership to a gym?

gymFor those of you getting funny looks because you’re sitting in front of your computer with your hand in the air, when was the last time you worked out at the gym? Here’s what just happened: some people quickly scanned back across the previous 12- 24 hours to remember their last workout. Others had to think back 12-24 months to remember the last time they were even at the gym. Yet, what both groups have in common are the choice to join a fitness center and the good intentions to use the membership to improve their health. It’s what happened next that differentiates the “regular attenders” from the “card carrying non-users.” The portion of people who workout at the gym regularly changed their attitudes and behaviors to incorporate routine exercise into their lifestyle. The “card carrying non-users” didn’t make the changes in mindset and schedule required to get the most out of the membership.

Just like improving physical fitness, becoming more influential is a about making lifestyle adjustments to prioritize certain activities over others. Though two people may make the same choice to enhance personal influence as a means to achieve objectives for “the greater good,” it’s the one who commits to an Influence Style who will succeed. An Influence Style, or I-Style for short, is an attitude and set of practices that are part of an influential person’s routine.

Influence, or motivating others to willingly take action in support of your goals to benefit the organization, is derived from: personal characteristics, the ability to identify and capitalize on situational advantages, and a willingness to lend personal resources when they fit a situational need.

Leveraging an I-Style makes it easier to naturally tap into available sources of influence giving us the trust, credibility, and value we’ll need to inspire others to action.

When you’re working with I-Style, you:

  • Focus on building trusting relationships.
  • Position yourself in the center of strong personal and business networks both face-to-face and through Social Media.
  • Find ways to make meaningful connections for the people in your networks.
  • Learn what is valued within the context and culture of your organization, team, or group. Determine if/how you can make meaningful contributions based on this value system.
  • Actively improve your insightfulness.
  • Identify and, if possible, use your skills and resources to bridge the gap between groups or within a given process.

Although some were pleased that at least a few of these items are already part of their modus operandi, many readers were listing the reasons why these practices won’t work for them. The latter reaction is natural. When faced with a behavior change that we know is going to cause discomfort or require a steep learning curve, our first inclination is to tighten our grip on the status quo. Despite the advertising slogans, our personal motto becomes…

“Some pain, hmm, is it worth the gain?”

When we’re not completely convinced that the price is worth the prize, we tend to construct barrierstime out of excuses and rationalizations. A typical self-constructed barrier is to look at the effort it will take to modify schedules and activities and then determine that “there’s just no time.”  Realistically though, this is not a very accurate complaint. We all have the same 24 hours each day. No one person has more time than another. The real issue is that we’re reluctant to channel time away from activities that are within our comfort-zone.  This particular barrier is not as much about having time as it is about making time.

While many of the self-imposed hurdles, such as perceived time constraints, arise from a reluctance to re-prioritize our focus, some spawn from misconceptions about influence. Think back to a time when you knew someone was trying every trick in the book to get you to do what he/she wanted despite your interest or desire. How did you feel about that person? What word comes to mind other than “influential” for describing that person? Is it “manipulative?” The tendency for persuasion, manipulation, and influence to be used interchangeably makes us timid about applying influence techniques. We are concerned about being perceived as coercive.  However, the difference in meaning between influence and its negative siblings in the lexiconic family lies not in the dictionary but within ourselves. If our intent is self-promotion, then the recipients of  our actions will feel they are being forced and manipulated.  On the other hand, if our intent is to promote the organization, then our actions will make others feel that they are being included in a worthwhile cause. 

Look back at the list of common practices influential people engage in on a regular basis. If  you are having difficulty getting others to contribute time, attention, or resources to initiatives outside of their typical job duties, and yet very few of the practices on the list are part of your work-style, what has been holding you back from adding influence to your leadership development plan? In order to make some or all of these a way of life, we have to begin by naming and conquering the personal barriers that have prevented us from enhancing our influence to date. Here are a few more common hurdles. Do any of these ring a bell?

  • I feel that when the truth is obvious, I shouldn’t have to influence others to earn their buy-in
  • I tend to be cautious about trusting others especially those I’ve just met or have not known for very long
  • Work is hectic so I often “seize the moment” when an opportunity arises to address ideas or concerns with people
  • I prefer to spend my time with colleagues and coworkers “in my area.” I’m not one to branch out and meet new people throughout the organization

If none of these barriers relate to you, what if any personal issues have been keeping you from becoming more influential?

Influence is not the hammer you pull out the moment you see the nail. It is the apprenticeship and training you go through long before you attempt to build a house. The best time to start enhancing your influence is as far in advance of when you’ll need to use it as possible. The next best time to start is today.

Begin developing your  I-Style by determining 1 or 2 steps you can take to remove your top 3 personal barriers to influence. Return next week to learn more about how to incorporate each of the I-Style practices into your routine.

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Filed under Business, Change, How To, Leadership

10 responses to “Breaking Down the Barriers to Influence

  1. complex post. upright one unimportant where I quarrel with it. I am emailing you in detail.

    • nicoledefalco

      OK. I look forward to your input. Intellectual challenges can only make us stronger and better!

  2. george l stein

    Brilliantly written.

  3. Erica

    I enjoyed this article. I thought the points about how we “tend to construct barriers” were very interesting, and that you were right on about the dislike of coming off or being manipulative of others. Where my situation differs is that the context I am working in is my own (one person) business, rather than within a larger organization. Therefore, I am interested breaking down mental barriers to precisely the thing that the article defines as being negative: “self-promotion”, but which in the context of one’s own business, is rather necessary and desireable. I’m curious if you can share any thoughts on that?

    • nicoledefalco

      Erica, you asked such an intriguing question that applies to so many people; I posted my answer in a new blog post!

      I look forward to continuing the dialogue with you.

  4. I really liked your comment, “We all have the same 24 hours each day”. It boggles my mind to see how much of that 24 hours people will freely “throw away”. I also liked your list of items under “When you’re working with I-Style…” I wonder, since these are things that come naturally to a leader or person with influence, can they be learned by someone else? If an individual doesn’t meet those “I-Style” requirements, can they actually learn them and be genuine in their actions? It seems to me either you got or you don’t.

    • Dawna, thank you for contributing your thoughts to the Barriers to Influence discussion.

      I think effectively using influence as a leader is certainly easier for people who have a combination of natural abilities or positive characteristics such as charisma. These people receive predominantly positive results from their efforts which reinforces the behaviors. For them, many of the influence best-practices fall well within their comfort zones.

      I do believe though that individuals who are not “born with it” can develop the skills and habits if they are willing to overcome their personal barriers and do the “heavy lifting.”

  5. That’s good. I like that you help us to identify our personal barriers.

    • nicoledefalco

      Hi Claire, I’m glad you found this post helpful! My intention is to contribute thought leadership to leadership development.