“You don’t have to be a ‘person of influence’ to be influential. In fact, the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they’ve taught me.” — Scott Adams
Influence is the ability to impact or affect outcomes, other people, and their ways of thinking and acting. We all have some sort of influence over other people: as a spouse, a parent, a friend, or a leader. As human beings, we are always influenced by the people around us, but that influence might not always be enough to motivate others or realize the outcomes and goals we have in mind.
So how can we, as leaders, amplify our influence to achieve our mission?
Before you can influence others, you need a certain level of self-awareness and understanding of who you are. You can’t be an influencer without an essence that can be influential. In order to find that essence: your purpose, mission, and values—you need to know who you are, how you feel, and how you think. And you also need to know what kind of influence you want to have over the people around you.
We always hear others say “know your audience” to know how to deliver your message. Influential leaders have enough emotional intelligence and empathy to understand how others tick, what they feel, what they currently need, and what solutions you can possibly give them.
When you understand others, you can connect with them on a deeper level, and when connections are established, influence follows.
“Connection is the conduit of influence.” — Dan Rockwell
Influential people are great at not only observing their own thoughts and feelings but also understanding their audience’s perspectives. They are also quick to assess the situation and adjust their behaviors and approaches accordingly. Knowing how to read a room and adapt your message and delivery to the current context is a valuable skill, both in leadership and influence.
A strong and well-defined identity (your personal branding) means embracing who you are, knowing what is important to you, and communicating it well to your audience in a way that is consistent, relatable, logically sound, and authentic. Influence requires a level of trust, and when you lack credibility, that influence you’ve built is also affected.
People need to trust you before they buy into your influence.
I talked to Rene Rodriguez a few weeks back, and he studied the science and art of influence that he wrote about in his book. According to him, influential leaders need to learn how to listen well and observe others’ body language in order to identify what matters to them. Communication is a whole-body experience.
It is also a two-way street. People want to feel important, and they want to know that what they have to say is validated by the people they are talking to. One way to do that is through simple comments such as “That’s an interesting take [on the subject].” Another way is by diving deeper and asking them to expand on their thoughts.
Sometimes, influence isn’t just about delivering a message or being the loudest voice in the room. It is also more effective to be the person who actually pays attention and responds to their audience’s thoughts appropriately.
It is hard to influence a person you do not know. And the best way to know people is through open communication.
As far back as history goes, humans have always made sense of the world and their “reality” through stories. Stories are powerful influence tools when done right. It takes the right frame of reference and connects you to your audience on an emotional level. As Will Peters said, “When it comes to persuasion, emotions usually trump intellect.”
In order to influence other people, you need to convince them to let you inside their minds through your narratives. The ticket is in storytelling.
Influence and manipulation are on two sides of a very narrow line. Manipulation happens when a person uses extreme, underhanded, and hidden persuasion techniques at the expense of others. Influence aims to have a positive effect on the outcome. Since it is for the benefit of others, it doesn’t need any hidden agenda.
That’s why influential leaders are able to be true to themselves and be transparent with their audience with accountability and purpose.
We’ve already established that trust plays a vital role in influence. That’s why leaders need to be honest, even when it's hard, and yet be able to deliver that candor with optimism. Saying, “I know this is going to be tough, but I believe in you,” manages to both deliver the reality that some things will be challenging and at the same time inspire confidence that brings out the best in people.
The ability to embrace the hard truth while managing to give hope, direction, and inspiration is what separates great leaders from the rest—they are the ones capable of influencing a person’s potential outside of their comfort zone. And let’s face it, being uncomfortable is where real growth happens. It takes a good leader to motivate others to step out where it hurts and transform that fear into excitement towards a challenge.
Influence can happen by coincidence or by design, but influential leaders make it happen. They are intentional, deliberate, and purposeful in what they do and what they say. And they are aware of themselves as well as how others might perceive them.
We need to be the architects of the impact we want to make and the goals we aim to realize. That is why we are leaders—because we are active participants in achieving our mission.
You can be the best inspirational speaker, and you might be able to motivate others for a while. But if people don’t see you “walking the talk,” your influence will decline. They will start to ask, “Why should I believe this person if they aren’t doing what they are preaching about?”
Leaders know how to take the right actions at the right time. The best way to sell others on an idea, solution, or product is to show them that it works—that’s how you lead and influence by example.
Humility means divorcing yourself from your “ego,” or having the attitude that you are not more important or better than others. When leaders serve with humility, they serve with the best intentions of others at the forefront. They are not in it to gain something but to enrich others’ lives and empower them.
They say one of the best ways to influence others is to make them feel important. And in the words of Joseph Grenny, “You can widen your circle of influence by widening your circle of service.” Come from a position of giving value to others and making them feel valued, and your influence is amplified. Because they know you are someone who has their best interests in mind, they will listen to you and follow you.
People respect those with knowledge and skills. That is why experts in fields like medicine, engineering, law, architecture, etc., hold influence in their fields. Because people know they are experts and trust their expertise.
If you want to amplify your influence, you have to continue learning and improving your craft. Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle says that for an argument to be persuasive it has to have ethos (credibility), pathos (emotional impact), and logos (sound logic or reason). The same applies to leadership and influence. In order to connect with people in a way that you can influence them, you need to know who you are and be relatable enough that your audience can identify with your story, and your message has to be informed, updated, and relevant.
At the core of it all, your influence is directly proportional to how well you can connect with others on a human level.
Start with knowing yourself to gain a better understanding of others, and overall, be human and lead with kindness.
Thank you for reading A Brilliant Tribe.