I always remain surprised at the lack of skills and ability that various Business Leaders have when it comes to influencing the employees they are supposed to be leading.
Influence can be defined as the ability to affect the character, development or behaviour 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, since behind every great leader is an army of followers acting in support of their mission or cause.
So the question is – How can business leaders become better at influencing?
All the research in the world and the tons of research articles published on mastering the art of influencing, all home in on two approaches. The first approach — transaction — emphasises 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. Even the latest research confirm that business leaders still use these two approaches and so understanding these two approaches is of pivotal importance if you want to stand a chance of improving the way you influence others.
Influence by Transaction
Business Leaders often use transactional influence at workplaces with a top-down, hierarchical structure — meaning people at the top of the company, like CEOs or senior management, make key decisions that are acted upon by the rest of the organisation. As such, this approach succeeds in a crisis, as well as in projects that require linear and specific processes. What does research tell us on this approach? Research shows that this approach is used by Business leaders who do not like “sugar coating things” and just say things as they are. This can earn them the trust of persons around them and and accelerates understanding, as such business leaders like to deal in facts rather than opinions and expect others to apply rationality to their argument. Research also concludes that business leaders who use transactional influence don’t necessarily build a personal bond with their subordinates. As a result of this lack of personal connection, such business leaders find it difficult to affect people’s behavior over time — at least without coming off as overbearing and causing their teams (and themselves) stress. Therefore, while influence by transaction is useful, it only works for the short term.
Influence by Transformation
There are then other business leaders that get things done by encouragement, support and going above and beyond the call of duty. Transformational influence is rooted in empathy. It is typically utilised in workplaces with a flat structure. Unlike top-down organizations, in which people at the top retain the most information and power, those with flat structures encourage team problem-solving and collaboration by removing hierarchical layers within the organisation
For leaders of the future, who will likely be working within increasingly flat structures, research suggests that transformational influence is more important to master than transactional — and it is easy to see why those who aspire to lead would be more inclined toward it. The very notion of leadership is becoming extinct as the world moves toward more agile, participative ways of working, and traditional, top-down organisations flatten and dissolve.
Mastering the Art of Influence
The latest research re-enforces the preference of transformational style of influence and outlines four main ways as to how any business leader can really master the art of influence both now and for the long term:
(i) Build rapport with the people you want to influence. Spend time getting to know your team, building trust and rapport and strengthening interpersonal connections. Ask: “What have your past managers done that you’d like me to do, or not do?” This question will instantly establish your credibility and show that you care. Whether their last manager was good or bad, their answers will provide valuable insights, such as what they appreciated most. You may need to reset their expectations and give them a reason to be optimistic.
(ii) Become an active listener rather than a transmitter. People want to be led by people they like, but that does not mean you should become everyone’s friend. As a manager, to be liked is to be concerned, engaged, and empathetic to your team’s needs — as their leader, not as their friend. Remember that often you are their touchpoint to the organisation’s larger vision, and it is your job to keep them aware of the big picture, listen and provide them with the resources they need to succeed. To be liked and respected by everyone, make sure you’re putting aside your biases, being consistent with your communication, and acting on what you hear (not just hearing them out).
(iii) Commit to your team. If you are not committed to your team, why should they follow you? Find ways to show others that you are committed to them on a group and individual level. This is best done by sharing your vision for what success looks like, why their roles are vital to reaching it and building growth opportunities along the way. Remember, people aren’t going to hold themselves accountable if they haven’t bought into the same vision and the plans to achieve it.
(iv) Be focused and set an example. The simple act of appreciating your team members, whether through a few words of praise at the end of a tough week or recognising their critical role in a recent project, can make a big difference in their motivation. One of the best questions you can ask as a business leader is “How do you like to receive praise or recognition?” The answers you receive will help you learn how to give your team members praise and recognition most.
Many issues I am called in to sort and assist with in various businesses, stem from the lack of ability of business owners or business managers to influence others. That is why I believe being able to influence others is one of the most important skill sets that a business leader should have.