10 ways to increase your influence
Jun 21st, 2023
What does it take to have influence?
With influence, people are drawn to you and listen to what you have to say, even if they don’t agree. It usually comes with a natural ability to be curious, clear and authentic.
The last time I felt compelled to listen was at the Financial Times’ Women in Business Conference, in June, at a fireside Chat with Leigh Ann Russell, Executive VP Innovation & Engineering at BP. She had the ability to respond to questions with clarity, conviction and authenticity. From her council estate background (which I share) her conversation was full of wisdom and insights. She talked about being asked to write a personal mission statement which she did not welcome but ended up enjoying doing. Hers, in this order, told the audience a lot about her:
Family – ‘we don’t thrive if our family don’t’ thrive’ – she has learnt to put her own oxygen mask on
Team – leadership is about finding the best people and enabling them to be the best version of themselves
Company – to lead technology for BP on delivering windfarms and decarbonisation…. As she put it the ‘world needs us to help to get to net zero’ – and she wants to play a part in enabling them to get there.
Simple, clear and authentic.
Many of my conversations with clients are about influencing. Their ability to do this well has a considerable impact on their success as leaders. Whether the situation is a first major presentation in a new role, a key decision you need agreement on at board level, or driving your career path, influence is a critical skill to hone.
Everyone can develop their ability to influence.
I invite you to think of a current situation that you need to influence and consider these guidelines. Let me know how it goes!
What do you want and why?
Be clear on your purpose. A managing director I work with was telling me of his plans to bring together his global leadership team for their annual meeting. He had a full agenda of discussion points and education sessions, yet he said that what he really wanted from the day was for everyone to come together to engage with each other and learn from each other. He had a team of experienced people and new members so the wisdom and fresh perspectives they could share would be valuable. With this clarity, he re-thought his agenda and sent an invitation for a far more collaborative day where the team had input into the questions that needed to be addressed. By clarifying his ‘why’, he was able to run a successful meeting that made a difference.
In order to influence you have to communicate with confidence and conviction. Be clear on what you believe and people will believe in you. Demonstrate what needs to be done, why and how you will deliver it, and where it has worked before, so that people are able to buy into you and your message.
Remember to over-communicate in difficult times – it’s important. Ground your message with the brutal facts of reality and create optimism by being enthusiastic about what the future can bring.
What do you want your audience or stakeholders to do?
Identify the key people you need to influence and what you want these people to think, say and do. Spend time standing in their shoes so you are clear on how they will benefit from what you are proposing. Equally, consider how might it adversely affect them. Honesty about the facts and implications of a certain course of action will increase trust and demonstrate your understanding of the potential challenges with considered solutions.
Practice delivering important messages to trusted individuals and ask them to pick holes in your messaging. You need an objective person you can trust to tell you how the messages you are delivering are actually being received so you can adjust it.
Often what we think we are saying is not what others are hearing. Liz Truss would have been wise to have practiced this before her Chancellor delivered the speech that led to their demise.
Include feedback on your body language as we have all seen leaders deliver one message that is made inauthentic by the contradicting message their demeanour is portraying.
The power of 3 – clarity of message
A useful practice in any situation is the rule of 3 – be it a conversation, meeting, or presentation. The rule is based on the Latin phrase “omne trium perfectum” which translates to “everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete”. The rule is based on research that shows the human brain enjoys patterns to organise information into patterns to process and retain it. The smallest number in a pattern is three.
Give thought to the 3 key messages you want to make and that you want people to take away.
Many people think influencing is about you doing the talking. I encourage my clients to do the opposite – the strongest influencers are curious, ask questions and listen. The most effective leaders show what I call Fierce Grace – a combination of tenacity and personal humility.
Recently I have been working with a client who is in line to be the successor to the CEO – a strong performer with a clear vision and knows how to get results. But his highly directive approach is impacting how some others view him and his suitability for the role. He is now learning to adapt his approach to focus on others, be interested in their perspective, and listen in order to encourage more productive and engaging board discussions and influence the outcome.
Always add value
Influence does not just come from one event or communication. Trust and influence is built on consistency. To become a trusted advisor who can exert influence, you need to be someone who is known for adding value. Trusted advisers are interested in long-term relationships instead of short-term transactions and their advice is continually sought because of the value they bring.
Adding value takes preparation and rigour, however its impact has a lasting effect and will influence your personal brand in an authentic way.
I always encourage generosity in business. When you have a meeting with new contacts there is a tendency to think about what you can get from it; however, I will often ask ‘what can you give?. Spending a greater amount of time on this question will give you greater influence.
Deliver on what you commit to
Actions speak louder than words, so make sure you under promise and over deliver. If you for some reason you cannot, make sure you let them know in good time and agree an acceptable alternative so you manage expectations. Missed deadlines shatters trust and credibility.
Show the real you
We are becoming immune to the stock answers we see politicians and business leaders giving. Tactics to avoid questions and stage-managed body language breeds distrust and it is becoming rare to see and hear authentic leadership.
Let people see the real you and be credible. When you are clear and confident, have real-life stories and examples that convey where you succeeded and failed people will emotionally engage with you and relate to you.
The wisdom of your experience with all its successes and tough times is priceless. Remember to play it forward and mentor someone who would benefit from your counsel. There is nothing more satisfying than playing a small part in enabling others to influence and see their lives and career progress.
Find Out More
To begin a conversation about how you can increase your influence, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.