My fascination with influence started to incubate in my early teens. I spent the better part of the 7th grade trying to figure out what made some kids popular and others bag lunches for bullies. By the 8th grade, I realized when the Coke bottle pointed toward me the odds of the boy on the other end crinkling his zit covered nose in disgust had more to do with my social status than my looks.
Little more than a decade later, I can’t tell you the outrageous sense of accomplishment I felt when I was promoted to a management position at the tender age of 26. Joy gave way to dismay when I quickly learned that a loyal band of followers did not come with the pay raise and title. By the end of the journey from insecure teenager to a position at the upper level of personal incompetence, an almost obsessive interest in the dynamics of social power hatched and spread its wings in the aviary of my intellectual curiosity.
I went on a mission to understand the difference between the leader who turns around to find a line of followers and the person who turns around only to see their own shadow. Based on my research, graduate school courses, observations of successful effective leaders, and personal experiences as a leader who earned a loyal following, I can tell you that it is imperative for professionals who care about their performance to become students of influence.
Whether we are in finance, IT, HR, management, advertising, marketing, project management, leading cross functional teams or selling shoes at Macy’s our success is going to depend on convincing one, ten, hundreds, or millions of other people to commit to and actually take a particular action.
If you are not sure committing to an influence-improvement program is worth your time, consider the top three reasons why influence is a key ingredient to professional success.
#3 People want someone to believe in and want someone to believe in them
Although natural charisma comes with a lifetime supply of influence, social power can be developed in the absence of such innate gifts. With or without the turbo-boost from charisma, people who use their influence with positive intentions to benefit the greater good do so by establishing their credibility, building trusting relationships, and adding value wherever and whenever possible.
The desires to belong in community, make constructive contributions, have our voices be heard, and be recognized for our efforts drive our attitudes, actions, and output. When these desires are met, we are at our best. When one or all are neglected, productivity and quality of work suffers. By virtue of their high levels of credibility, trust, and perceived value, influencers are able to leverage their social power to fulfill these desires; thereby unlocking individual and group potential and setting the stage for optimum performance.
#2 Bridging Gaps Leads to Indispensability
In the game Jenga, players take turns trying to remove blocks from a tall stack of interconnected pieces without toppling the structure. Some pieces slide out easily. Some pieces are immovable because they are embedded in and vital to the stability of the tower’s infrastructure. What would happen if you were slid out of your role? Would the world in which you work tumble to the ground? Or, would it be weeks before somebody pointed to your desk and casually asked “Hey, where’d she go?”
A tremendous source of influence comes from actively seeking out and filling structural holes. Making valuable connections between groups, taking on neglected tasks (even if they fall outside job parameters), and being available to lend a hand increase personal influence and secure a reputation of indispensability to an organization.
#1 Influencers get results
Like teaching a group of phobic toddlers to swim, we always have the option to throw our charges kicking and screaming into the deep end, immersing them in the world of our objectives and opinions. Although they’ll get wet, they will also beat a hasty retreat from the water never to return and never to trust us again.
The influencer’s approach is to motivate the aqua-phobic to willingly dive into and paddle around in a pool of our ideas. Taking the time to listen to their concerns, communicate messages using their terminology, and help them draw their own conclusions earns us the trust needed to lead a target audience away from the fear of the unknown and toward the personal conviction that learning to swim is a worthwhile pursuit.
Though less expedient than most “sink or swim” persuasion techniques, using influence to motivate others to commit to specific actions produces better results with almost no negative side-effects.