Updated: Sep 14, 2020
Have you ever worked with a colleague who seemed to get astounding things done and wondered how they manage it? They may not have a big title or the authority to make people act, yet their accomplishments almost seem like magic! These people are likely masters of influence, able to read the motivations of others and get their commitment to act.
A manager who only uses their position to command obedience – “Do this, or else” – will find that the best results will be reluctant compliance from their teams to do the bare minimum or less.
A great leader, on the other hand, appeals to what motivates others to buy into the action on their own terms. The trick is in understanding that everyone has different motivations and method of influence have to adapt to the individual.
In their book "Influence Without Authority”, Cohen and Bradford outline the core premise for influence:
Influence is about trades, exchanging something the other values in return for what you want.
Relationships matter; the more good ones you have, the greater your odds of finding the right people to trade with and having some goodwill to help the trades along. And for many, relationships are important in their own right.
Influence at work requires that you know what you are doing, have reasonable plans, are competent at the task at hand – but that isn’t enough. It is just the price of admission.
You have to want to influence for the ultimate good of the organization. In the short term, that may not be necessary, but genuine care for the organization’s goals makes you more credible and trustworthy, keeps you from being seen as only in it for yourself, and prevents those whom you have influenced from ruining your reputation or seeking retaliation.
Your difficulty with influence often rests, unfortunately, with you. Sometimes you just don’t know what to do, which is relatively easy to fix. But at certain critical moments, we all do things that keep us from being as effective as we could be. While occasionally the other party is truly impossible, far more often, your influence deficit comes from something you are doing – or failing to do.
Just about everyone is potentially much more influential than they think they are.
The important takeaway is that you likely have more influence than you are using. You can strengthen your influence as long as you are competent, care about the people you work with, act in the best interests of the organization, prepared to create win-win situations and willing to look at how your own behaviours may have to change.
If you're interested in learning more about how to use influence as a leader, we are now accepting applications for the next cohort of the Northern Leadership Program.