How to influence people

Female Manager Guiding Team Members

Strengthen Your Ability to Influence People

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Do you aspire to be in the C-suite, leading people and driving change? If you do, you’ll need to master the art of influence — a skill which, like any other, can be learned.

Influence can be defined as the ability to affect the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, and it requires developing a strong emotional connection with yourself and others. Those who master the art of influence are often skilled at tapping into the emotions that drive people’s actions. This explains why influence is synonymous with leadership. Behind every great leader is an army of followers acting in support of their mission or cause. In fact, when Time magazine ranks the 100 most influential people globally, their largest group isn’t comprised of sports stars, musical icons, or philanthropists, but leaders such as Michelle Obama, Xi Jinping, Jacinda Ardern, and Bob Iger.

We recently conducted a meta-analysis to answer this question. Our ultimate goal was to discover how the most influential leaders have mastered the art throughout history, and which forms of influence are still practiced by successful leaders today. The Cross-National Time-Series Data Archive, a library of 200 years of data for more than 200 countries, was an excellent starting point. Our search criteria was to identify books and articles from a database of 700,000 where the terms “leadership” and “influence” appear within the same publication.

The first approach — transaction — emphasizes actual, actionable transactions between a leader and their subordinates. It focuses on improving an immediate situation by determining the steps that need to be taken in the short term. In the second approach — transformation — leaders act as role models and motivators who offers vision, excitement, encouragement, morale boost, and satisfaction to the followers.

After we narrowed down these two common approaches, we wanted to know how and if leaders still use them today. To figure this out, we surveyed 1,000 high-performing leaders in 17 countries and 11 vertical markets, including finance, insurance, pharma, and technology, and asked them the following questions (among others):

Our findings confirmed that transactional and transformational influence continue to be the two most prevalent ways leaders exert their power over others today. Before you can master the art of influence yourself, you need to understand both of them.

Sources of Authority

While a managerial title might be one of the most obvious sources of authority for working professionals, it isn’t the only place influence comes from. There are many sources of authority you can leverage to inspire others to follow your lead. Some of the most important of these include:

1. Your Expertise

If you want or need to influence others in your organization and motivate them to listen to you, one of the surest methods is to develop expertise in your discipline, industry, or both. Doing so allows you to position yourself as an authority and a resource. Using your expertise to back up your recommendations, plans, or projects can lend an air of authority and convince others you really do know what you’re talking about.

Want to be seen as an expert? The first step is to develop your knowledge and skills to the point that you deeply understand the subject matter so you can speak to it when necessary. But it’s not just about what you know; you also have to make sure others know what you know. Earning a certification or attending a course focused on that specific subject can also be helpful in conveying your expertise.

2. Your Relationships

When you have real, meaningful relationships with colleagues, it’s possible to build trust and understand their personal and professional motivations—both of which will put you in a better position to inspire them to follow your direction. People will be more inclined to listen to you and help you reach your goals if they view you as a person, not just a co-worker, and if they believe you would do the same for them given the opportunity.

Want to develop stronger relationships with your coworkers? Your best bet is to work on developing your emotional intelligence, a soft skill that underpins all effective management. In general, emotional intelligence refers to your ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize the emotions of those around you. Taking the time to truly get to know the people you work with can mean the difference between a potential ally who wants to help you succeed and someone who is indifferent to your success or failure.

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3. Your Corporate and Organizational Understanding

Just as expertise within your particular discipline or domain can help you achieve authority as an expert, having a thorough understanding of how your organization operates offers another source of authority to leverage. This authority comes not from your knowledge of the industry at large, but the inner workings of your business.

Most companies, especially larger or more established ones, have particular processes in place to accomplish tasks. If you’re the person who knows how to get things done, go through the process correctly, get signoff on key projects, initiatives, or resource allocation, then people will naturally want to hitch their wagon to yours.

Similarly, if you can tie your project back to an important strategic initiative within your business, it may be easier for you to inspire others to follow your lead, as they’ll want to share in the credit of a job well done.

Want to develop your organizational understanding? Doing so is likely to take time, due to the way most organizations function. Take every opportunity you can to learn about your company by sitting in on meetings—whether or not they’re related to your department or role—developing relationships with important people from other departments, reading corporate strategy documentation, or finding a mentor. The more you can understand how your business functions, the better.

What to Do When Nothing Works

Sometimes, these tactics won’t be enough to convince others to follow your lead. While it’s always best, if possible, to handle this problem on your own, in some cases it may be wise for you to ask your supervisor to step in and make it clear to everyone else that you’ve been tasked with leading the project and that they should support you to the best of your ability.

Another alternative, especially if you’re regularly tasked with leading projects in an unofficial capacity, is to convince your supervisor to adjust your title. In addition to the professional boost this can offer your career, the right title will be one that implies to others you have at least some level of authority over them. It doesn’t matter if they want to follow your lead; they have to.

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Not sure how to convince your supervisor that you are deserving of a title change, or that such a change could help you be more effective in your role? Developing your leadership skills by taking a course or completing a related certification can help you demonstrate that you take your career seriously. At the same time, you’ll learn leadership principles and gain valuable insights and skills that you can put into practice to become a more effective leader.

Do you want to enhance your leadership skills? Download our free leadership e-book and explore our online course Leadership Principles to discover how you can become a more effective leader and unleash the potential in yourself and others.


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