To be truly effective, leaders must master the ability to influence others. We have identified “influencing others” as one of the 4 core leadership skills needed in every role. (Communicating, learning agility, and self-awareness are the other 3.)
“Without the capacity to influence others, your ability to make what you envision a reality remains elusive because, after all, no one can do it alone,” writes George Hallenbeck, lead contributor to our book, Lead 4 Success: Learn the Essentials of True Leadership.
“Without the ability to capture the hearts, minds, and energy of others, the truly important things in work and in life can’t be achieved.”
Effective leaders don’t just command; they inspire, persuade, and encourage. Leaders tap the knowledge and skills of a group, point individuals toward a common goal, and draw out a commitment to achieve results.
4 Keys to Influencing Others
How do they do that? The best leaders have 4 key influencing skills:
- Political savvy: They embrace organizational politics to move teams and important initiatives forward.
- Self-promotion: Leaders cut through the noise with authentic, credible self-promotion that helps others as well as themselves.
- Building and maintaining trust: Because leadership often involves guiding people through risk and change, trust is essential.
- Leveraging networks: No leader is an island. They are empowered by their connections with others.
Here’s a look at each of these skills in a little more detail.
Practicing “Political Intelligence”
All organizations have 2 sides: the formal structure pictured on the org chart and the informal structure, which more often represents how things really get done. Politically savvy leaders understand both.
Political savvy is both a mindset and a skill set. Savvy leaders view politics as a neutral and necessary part of organizational life that can be used constructively and ethically to advance organizational aims.
For a leader, political savvy in action looks like this:
- Networking to build social capital, including mingling strategically.
- Thinking before responding, considering context and goals before deciding when and how to express themselves.
- Paying close attention to nonverbal cues, practicing active listening, considering how others might feel, and finding ways to appeal to the common good.
- Leaving people with a good impression, without coming across as “trying too hard.”
Promote Yourself, Promote the Organization
Self-promotion is often seen as bragging or selfishness. But influential leaders know that by promoting themselves authentically, for the right reasons, they can cut through the information that bombards us all each day.
In the hands of an astute leader, self-promotion isn’t just a tool to advance one’s own career. It can provide visibility and opportunities for their direct reports, generate team and organizational pride, and make capabilities and ideas more visible across the organization—ultimately enhancing collaboration.
Two self-promotion strategies stand out. First, leaders who are good at this skill find ways to gather an audience. They may ask more people to be part of a team, initiative, or problem-solving process. Second, self-promoters find ways to “put on a show.” Leaders find ways to step into the spotlight at selected events and meetings, sometimes creating their own events.
Building and Maintaining a Foundation of Trust
Building and maintaining trust is essential for leading. Without trust, leaders may be able to force people to comply, but they’ll never tap the full commitment, capabilities, and creativity the group can offer. Leveraging these assets is invaluable when tackling tough challenges or making a strategic change, so trust is vital.
People look for leaders who can appreciate their vulnerability and inspire them, understand them, support them, and guide them through looming chaos. This requires the leader to demonstrate a broad range of behaviors, some of which might seem contradictory, but when used in an appropriate and timely manner, create conditions that foster trust.
Trust involves a careful balance between pushing people into areas where they’re uncomfortable while also listening carefully to their concerns and feedback. Among the many “balancing acts” they must work to maintain, trustworthy leaders weigh toughness and empathy as individuals struggle with the transition as well as urgency with patience as change proceeds.
Finally, leaders who are skilled at influencing others to recognize and cultivate the power of networks. Organizations are increasingly dynamic; they morph in size and shape over time. Influential leaders recognize that their personal networks must also be dynamic, and they continually grow and strengthen their networks. They are also strategic about choosing how and when to tap into this network.
Across all 4 of these influence skills—political savvy, self-promotion, building trust, and networking—context is important.
The goal is to influence others, not manipulate them. Effective, ethical leaders use different approaches in different situations. Leaders need to understand why they are doing something—and be clear about their own values and goals when applying their influence skills. That way, influence comes from a place of authenticity and has the greatest impact.