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Influence: A Cornerstone for Effective Leadership

 

Influence is one of the competencies in the Emotional and Social Intelligence (ESI) model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. Not surprisingly, it has been empirically linked to increased leadership performance, but understanding exactly how to wield this capability is far less obvious.

Leaders who have developed the Influence competency are effective at using multiple approaches to produce outcomes, such as:

  • Appealing to the self-interest of others
  • Cultivating alliances with key people
  • Engaging in discussion that leads to support
  • Building consensus

Influential leaders also possess a stronger ability to capture the attention of others, and both anticipate and adapt to responses or objections.

How Influence Contributes to Leadership Effectiveness

Influence interrelates with empathy and other ESI competencies, and also requires strength in the ESI domains of self-awareness, self-management and social awareness. To be effective, a leader needs the capabilities and insights provided by these strengths, since without them they will struggle with identifying how to be of service to others. They will also be ineffective at determining whether or not their attempts at communication are being received as intended.

Successful leaders realize that influence is critical to their effectiveness. For example, those who have studied leadership know that influence forms the basis for an academic definition for leadership recognized by many scholars: “Leadership is the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives” (Gary Yukl, Leadership in Organizations (5th ed.) (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002), 8.).

The leaders I interviewed in my 2016 study – on leadership, mindfulness, and emotional intelligence – linked influence to developing the ability to accurately identify the needs and motivations of others. An example includes the HR head for a leading global manufacturing firm who developed a working understanding of how influence relates to workplace results, saying “…when you really relate to another person, you’re able to gather a lot more information about how to influence the situation, or influence the outcome,” and “…you can connect with them on different levels and therefore influence them better.”

Effective leaders also realize that subordinates and peers are more productive and loyal when they act out of their own choice rather than being ordered or pressured. As a result, they focus on developing their ability to identify opportunities for mutually beneficial working arrangements, which also excludes behavior that may be perceived as self-serving, or manipulative. On the contrary, discussion of the way in which mindfulness contributed to influence indicated participants’ realization that sincere interest in fulfilling others’ needs was an effective basis for becoming more influential.

How to Become More Influential

Keep in mind that coworkers are typically worried about being left in bad situations by those they depend on. This means that the trust-based aspect of influence must be developed over time. It is built upon a foundation of quality interpersonal interactions, and consistent delivery of mutual value. Therefore, authentic, timely, and highly professional follow-through on commitments are a cornerstone of the Influence competency.

When considering ways to strengthen your ability to influence others it’s also important to focus on the point that leadership effectiveness requires the participation of others. From that standpoint it helps to monitor your interpersonal interactions to ensure that you are demonstrating professional competence and integrity. This includes understanding the individual and organizational values that others base their judgements upon, which I explore in my article How to Tune In to the Unspoken Rules of an Organization.

With this as a starting point there are some simple questions you can consistently ask yourself to help you stay focused on becoming influential:

  • Why might others think you are insincere and how can this be addressed?
  • Do you always follow-up on your commitments and fulfill your promises completely?
  • What skills, experiences and attributes can you demonstrate that are important to others?
  • How can you regularly evaluate your answers to the above through impartial feedback?

You should also spend time reflecting on past outcomes that were unsatisfactory. You can use the previous questions to learn from these experiences and identify opportunities to become more influential should similar circumstances arise in the future.

If you are intent on improving your ability to influence others, you must remain aware of the fact that influence often only exists when others have confidence in you. The cooperative nature of this equation makes the quality of interpersonal relationships even more significant. For this reason, developing influence will be aided by additional attention to empathy, emotional self-control, organizational awareness, conflict management, and adaptability.

Recommended Reading:

In Influence: A Primer, Daniel Goleman, Peter Senge and colleagues introduce Emotional Intelligence and dive deep into the Influence competency. In a relatively short read, the authors illustrate the valuable skills needed to guide others in realizing the value of your ideas and point of view – not for the sake of exerting blind command, but to collaborate towards a positive vision with empathy and awareness.

Leader’s Perspective: What Separates The Best from the Rest in Leadership

 

What inspires us to be better leaders? Was it a particular boss, a powerful article or a significant experience? For me, the answer is relatively simple. Taking time to reflect on people I have worked for and with as well as countless other experiences as both a manager and a parent, I can single out the most important lesson I have learned about leadership.

I was ten years old and my paternal grandfather shared a lesson with me from his time in the U.S. Marine Corps. What he shared was simple, easy to understand and has stuck with me throughout my career in leadership. The lesson was that to lead a group of people, one only needed to know four things. He said that if I got these four things right, whoever I was leading would “follow me into the jaws of Hell!” This painted a vivid picture for a ten-year-old and is probably why I’ve not only remembered it all these years, but have put them to practice and have come to know first hand that he was right.

My Grandfather’s 4 leadership musts:

  1. Make sure my team has dry socks
  2. Make sure they have full bellies
  3. Treat them with Respect
  4. Above all, treat them as Equals

This may be sound advice for a team of Marines on the move, but for business?

Dry socks and full bellies

Let’s break it down. Ensuring your team has “dry socks” and “full bellies” is an easy concept to translate to the world of business. Let’s assume dry socks and full bellies are surrogates for basic needs, safety, comfort, etc. This may take different forms in different business environments, but essentially we are making sure people get paid sufficiently, have a decent environment to work in, etc. It is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in practical terms. In my experience most businesses are able to address these basic human needs, but by themselves these aren’t enough.

Respect

The third item the Colonel instructed was “treat them with respect”. What does this mean? In many hierarchical structures it is often those at the top of the hierarchy who demand “respect” from those at the bottom. They may develop a sort of begrudging politeness and respect for their position but not the depth of respect that is the hallmark of good leadership.

What we are talking about here is the difference between “treating someone with respect” due to their position in the hierarchy and “having respect for someone” because they are fellow humans.

On the surface this sounds self evident, but in my experience fewer leaders/managers are able to embrace this step than the first two. Why is that? I don’t believe that it is because these managers don’t care about their employees. I think they care, but maybe about the wrong things. Often they see the team as “their” employees, and co-workers are often seen as tools to get the jobs done. Ironically, most managers have been the employee at some point and quickly upon assuming the mantle of management they forget what it was like to be in the shoes they just vacated. Additionally, some managers try to keep a distance from their employees knowing that they may have to discipline them in the future. They may also worry that these employees might one day decide to leave the organization and move on in search of brighter pastures.

The mantra becomes “don’t get too close, keep it professional” and is achieved by maintaining your distance by not connecting. I don’t think that’s what the old Marine was getting at. He’d lost plenty of soldiers to combat, reassignment, the end of their enlistment, or post-war reductions in force. I think he was getting at this essential idea—treating your team with respect requires two conditions to be present: self-awareness and connection.

Developing self-awareness of what motivates you, what triggers you, and a clear sense of your emotional and physical boundaries is critical. If you know what’s yours, you won’t be inclined to take on another’s baggage. If you are self-aware, you are likely cognizant of personal work you need to do and similarly are accepting if not comfortable with some of your vulnerabilities or shortcomings. This makes it possible for you to lead with confidence, identifying the qualities you need on your team and allowing those with skills you may not have to step up and participate fully. You don’t need to have all the answers—as long as you are aware of this and don’t see it as a flaw, but rather the way it is.

When you are able to know and respect yourself, you can respect others as individuals. This is an essential quality in good managers and leaders alike. It’s not something you are born with but something you have to work to develop. It necessitates stepping away from the ego-centered label of who you are and where you fit in the hierarchy and into the reality of who you are. As Steve Miller sang, “The question to everyone’s answer is usually asked from within.”

Equality, Even In Hierarchy

In the context of the qualities of leadership outlined by the Colonel, connection is just what it sounds like: knowing the people you work with and letting them know you. Caring about them as more than simply tools to accomplish the task, but as whole people with hopes and dreams, imperfections, joys and sorrows. You need to have enough confidence to show them who you are, sharing that you are more than just the boss, you are a human being who also has hopes and dreams, even imperfections.

In a business hierarchy this can be a challenge. As you open up and show your vulnerability, your caring, and your humanity, you will start to notice little things. You learn about people’s lives, and yes, this makes it all the more difficult if one day you have to lay them off or fire them. This is the whole point of connection! People matter and when you have to let someone go, it makes sense that you would feel some loss. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let them go, but in feeling that grief you know that they are important to you as people, not just as tools. When you find yourself grieving the person, not necessarily the job they were doing, you have arrived at the fourth stage. You experience equality with them, not in the hierarchical sense but in the true sense of being equal as a human being. This in no way undermines the authority of the hierarchy, but it cements a personal connection that can be every bit as valuable in terms of your leadership as your position in the organizational structure.

When you show up with self-awareness and connect, people will gladly follow your leadership. It may not happen immediately: your very position in the hierarchy makes you someone to fear. You have the power to hire and fire. You can misuse your authority. I think the last piece of this is something the Colonel didn’t specifically state, but is implicit in treating our teams with respect and as equals, and that is trust.

Your job won’t make you trustworthy. There is no mantle of trust that will be conferred upon you based on your position in the hierarchy.

This is something you have to earn through your own self-awareness and willingness to connect authentically with your team. You are going to have to show your team and prove to them that you are self-aware, willing to connect and can be trusted. When this happens, you will have formed a team that will have your back, as you have theirs. A team that is not only capable of, but a team that will perform great things and in so doing with metaphorically “follow you into the jaws of Hell”.

Recommended Reading:

Learn more about the intersection between leadership and emotional intelligence in our new Primer series, featuring Daniel Goleman, Richard Davidson, Peter Senge, and other thoughtful contributors. Primers available are:

How to Influence with Emotional Intelligence

 

Today marks the release of Influence: A Primer, the latest in the Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence series, which explores the 12 EI competencies of leadership developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. Influence is a competency not often associated with Emotional Intelligence, yet it is essential to leadership as a social skill in order to make progress and get things done through – and with – others.

To help clarify this relationship, and illustrate the style of influence covered in our primer, we thought we’d share a few excerpts and quotes. The primer itself is available now for only $9, and will cover all of this in much greater depth, yet in a concise format you can read in less than an hour and fit in your pocket!

What is Influence?

Influence is a social competency. Leaders who are equipped with the emotional self-awareness and self-control to manage themselves while being adaptable, positive, and empathic can express their ideas in a way that will appeal to others. Influence is necessary for any leadership style, and can be done in a way that is meaningful and effective or fraught with resistance.

Leaders competent in influence will gather support from others with relative ease and are able to lead a group who is engaged, mobilized, and ready to execute on the tasks at hand. This is how real progress is made, how extraordinary successes are accomplished. How does a leader leverage these abilities to become influential? That is the focus of this Primer.

Daniel Goleman:

With the Influence competency, you’re persuasive and engaging, and you can build buy-in from key people.

You can’t order people to do what you want, you must persuade or inspire them to put forth their best efforts toward the clear objective you have defined.

Influence competence draws on empathy—without understanding the other person’s perspective and sensing their feelings, influencing them becomes more difficult.

Richard Boyatzis

The core intent of the Influence competency is a desire to get someone to agree with you. The behavior that demonstrates this competency is doing things that appeal to their self-interest and anticipating the questions they would have.

To the extent that we have a sphere of influence—and we all do in our families, with our friends, at work—we are leaders. Everyone is a leader in this sense.

Peter Senge

Real change often happens informally, with people who are good listeners, respectful of their culture, and who look for windows of opportunity.

Don’t worry about “getting everyone on board.” Instead, build a critical mass of people who have influence and then support them in spreading their influence.

Where there are matters you care about deeply, let go of the moral high ground of thinking “I’ve got to get people to do this,” and find where your interests and others’ naturally intersect.

Vanessa Druskat

Emotionally intelligent leaders typically recognize that team collaboration requires effective team member interactions, and such interactions are built upon the trust that grows out of relationship-focused norms and behavior.

In our work, we have found “emotion resources” or tools to be one of the most effective ways to enforce or reinforce team norms and, thus, to influence team behavior and outcomes.

Matthew Lippincott

Leaders with self-awareness and emotional self-control are better able to influence others and cultivate effective relationships.

By consistently demonstrating honesty, integrity, and authenticity in your interactions with people, a leaders’ ability to influence them significantly improves.

Matthew Taylor

Effective leaders use influence both to move people and inspire them to move. They do this by simultaneously communicating belief in their teams, appealing to their values, and holding them to high expectations for growth and achievement.

At any given moment, the leader has many variables to consider, including other people’s emotions, beliefs, values, goals, level of self-awareness, level of resistance, and level of skill. Ultimately, what the team—the individual or the group—needs is a just-right recipe of warm and demanding.

The Influence Primer is available now.

In Influence: A Primer, Daniel Goleman and colleagues introduce Emotional Intelligence and dive deep into the Influence competency. In a relatively short read, the authors illustrate the valuable skills needed to guide others in realizing the value of your ideas and point of view – not for the sake of exerting blind command, but to collaborate towards a positive vision with empathy and awareness.

How Empathic Concern Helps Leaders in Crisis

 

There are three types of empathy, according to researchers.

  • Cognitive empathy or perspective-taking is the capacity to consider the world from another individual’s viewpoint.
  • Emotional empathy is the kind of empathy in which you physically feel the emotions of the person you are interacting with. You connect with someone in a way that you take on their emotions.  Emotional empathy makes someone well-attuned to another person’s inner emotional world.
  • “Empathic concern” is the kind of empathy that moves people to action, and is the motivation behind our efforts to reduce the suffering of another.

There is a growing dialogue about the importance of empathy, specifically, “empathic concern” in the business community.

Once marginalized as not relevant to the hardscrabble world of shareholder value and the bottom line, empathy is taking center stage. In part, because we are learning that we do ourselves and workplace culture a huge disservice by trying to wall off our emotional selves.  Empathic concern is like an activating agent in a chemical process. Its presence or absence makes or breaks interactions.

From the research (see below), we know empathy is related to leadership emergence and effectiveness, and empathic leaders have followers who experience less stress and have fewer physical symptoms. Indeed, leaders high in the empathy competency will be more successful at motivating and leading their employees, and helping their employees cope with workplace stresses. They will be more attuned to their customers’ wants, have higher customer satisfaction, and be more innovative.

Empathic Concern in Action…

Consider an HR leader in the Asian offices of a global tech company, charged with leading a reduction in workforce.  In late 2008 the economy was severely hit by the financial crisis and the technology sector suffered deep losses. At a large high visibility tech company, reports of impending layoffs created a contagion of anxiety.  The Asian offices were quickly immersed in tumult because Korean labor law makes it nearly impossible to lay workers off. It was unheard of.

However, the Korea VP embodied social intelligence and empathic concern. He had a great deal of self-awareness and felt enormous pain for the circumstances his employees were facing. When he started having one-on-one’s with those who were impacted, he intentionally decided he would be “real.” He set aside business script and simply met with his fellow co-workers honestly, revealing how profoundly he cared. He told them he would do his best to advocate for them in negotiating separation packages and other benefits such as outplacement services. During the one-on-one’s, he noticed that he was tearful, which was culturally unorthodox, especially during the negotiation of severance packages. Despite behavioral norms, he didn’t hold his feelings back.

What happened next was surprising.  Because he showed authentic empathic concern, employees were much less antagonistic.  In fact, the whole negotiation process got easier, and the laid off staff signed the separation documents.  There was still healing that needed to happen, but it was much less divisive than it might have been.  Employees remarked that they didn’t feel it was personal. They believed the VP was doing the best he could for them.  It was a powerful example of the importance of sincere empathic concern and humble leadership during organizational crisis.

Experiences such as a financial crisis and a major workforce reduction are leadership crucibles. The most extraordinary leaders, when faced with crises, take time to ask themselves what matters most. In this case, the leader felt what mattered most was the lives of the people he worked with.

References:

  1. Boyatzis, Richard E. “Possible contributions to leadership and management development from neuroscience.” Academy of Management Learning & Education 13, no. 2 (2014): 300-303.
  2. Goleman, Daniel, Richard E. Boyatzis, and Annie McKee. Primal leadership: Unleashing the power of emotional intelligence. Harvard Business Press, 2013.

Recommended reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Empathy: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

For personal interviews, see the Crucial Competence video series!

women leaders meeting and shaking hands, unspoken rules in an organization

How to Tune In to the Unspoken Rules of an Organization

 

Organizational Awareness is a competency that falls under the domain of Social Awareness, and is one of the twelve learnable capabilities included in the Leadership Competency Model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. This competency is empirically linked to leadership performance, and present in leaders with an understanding of the complex relationships and intricacies of their workplace environments, including:

  • The values and culture
  • Social networks
  • Informal structures and processes
  • Unspoken rules

Leaders with strength in Organizational Awareness will be conscious of the roles played by relationships, influence, and authority within their organization as well. The leaders I interviewed as part of my study on the impact of mindfulness on leadership effectiveness were able to demonstrate an understanding of these important factors. They also reported having developed a gradually increasing capacity for Organizational Awareness over time, a process they said was enhanced by mindfulness practice.

Developing Organizational Awareness

Your goal should be to build an accurate picture of how and why your organization functions so that you minimize your risk of unintentionally misaligning with the values.

Time spent on this type of development can also help with other competencies such as empathy, influence, and teamwork. This is because Organizational Awareness requires you to collect information about others that can contribute to your ability to more effectively attune to their needs. This form of development requires specific types of social interaction, which will help to expand your social networks and build stronger relationships.

To expand your capacity for this, spend time on both reflection and interaction with others in order to develop and test theories about your workplace. These activities should include:

  • Analysis of what organizational factors may have contributed to an event
  • Obtaining input on your conclusions from a diverse group of coworkers
  • Incorporating what you know about your organizations’ culture when making decisions
  • Managing your behavior to ensure alignment with unspoken rules

These activities will also require you to spend more time with coworkers in other departments. This provides you with access to new information contributing to a greater ability to understand the needs of others and the larger value system of your organization. Time spent on these activates also creates an opportunity to develop more meaningful relationships. At every step in this process it is worthwhile to ask questions that help you learn about the needs, day-to-day activities, and personal interests of coworkers. This creates formal and informal channels for gathering information, and cultivates trusting relationships.

Assessing your beliefs about what leadership is, and how leaders function within organizations is important as well.

Many people, including those in leadership roles, have conflicting and inaccurate beliefs about these topics. These beliefs are heavily influenced by the cultures that we grew up in, and are often not supported by research. A great way to enhance your understanding of leadership is to read the book Indispensable by Harvard Business Professor Gautam Mukunda. It explores core beliefs about leadership through in-depth, historical analysis of famous leaders. This story-based approach is highly informative, and makes many potentially confusing concepts accessible to a much larger audience. The primer on Organizational Awareness is another great resource for further understanding and practical skills for developing this competency.

Recommended reading:

For more examples of Organizational Awareness in action, see Coaching Leaders to Value and Manage Their Organizational Webs.

Organizational awareness primerOur new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Organizational Awareness: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

Additional primers so far include:

Daniel Goleman Defines Organizational Awareness

As we continue exploring the Emotional and Social Intelligence Competency of Organizational Awareness, there is no one better to share a simple and clear definition of what this competency is. Here is Daniel Goleman on Organizational Awareness.

This clip is an excerpt from Crucial Competence: Building Emotional and Social Leadership

Interested in learning more? See the following:

Organizational Awareness: A Primer

Coaching Leaders to Value and Manage Their Organizational Webs

 

Coaching Leaders to Value and Manage Their Organizational Webs

 

DeLea is like a spider, aware of even the most subtle vibrations across her web.   She is able to predict how emotional energy will travel across her organizational web of stakeholders when she makes a leadership decision.

When one of her senior managers denies her proposal to implement a progressive reading practice in her school, she positively engages her powerful allies across her web to build support for the new practice.  Meanwhile, she re-engages her manager at the level of values and beliefs that she knows they both hold dear.  As a result, the no turns into an enthusiastic yes in weeks.  On her own team, DeLea meets individually with key influencers about the new practice to hear their point of view and subtly appeal to what they value.  When it comes time to formally make her pitch to her team, many strong voices in the room voice their enthusiastic support.   Weeks later when DeLea hears secondhand about a veteran teacher voicing frustration about the practice in the staff lounge, she knows exactly which teachers, support staff, and parents to engage to head off a potential setback. She also engages the teacher in question with the just-right blend of affirmation and high-candor feedback to begin shifting his resistance.

Isabel, a leader at another school, is like a fly caught in a web.  She skillfully builds the schedule and transition protocols for her school’s extended day program makeover.  However, it never occurs to her to question how people will feel about the new program.  She never asks anyone for feedback or shares any details about the plan until unveiling it in a Friday staff meeting. On Monday she is surprised to hear gossip about how she treats people and how arrogant she is to just ”take over” the extended day program.   Hurt and disoriented, Isabel just didn’t see this coming, and she feels like she’s been ambushed.   Isabel has a new appreciation for those who say that leadership is a lonely path.

What separates DeLea and Isabel is organizational awareness. 

DeLea values her team’s emotional energy.  She reads people, trusts her gut, and actively seeks information about people’s beliefs before she acts.   Isabel doesn’t value her team’s emotional energy and so does none of the things that DeLea does to guide her actions.

How do you teach Isabel to be like DeLea?

The first step is to build Isabel’s awareness that the web exists, and that her success depends on her understanding how it works.  Expect resistance!  Leaders who aren’t aware of the web and don’t value it tend to believe that small interactions don’t matter, and that people won’t find out about what they say behind closed doors.

Some take a values stand against caring about the web.  They won’t stoop to paying attention to gossip.  People should just be adults and get over their own emotional reactions.   These leaders need help seeing the impact of the web on their ability to meet their goals.  Coaches can help leaders to unpack their webs by digging deep into a current or past challenge.  Isabel and I drew a web of relationships on a big piece of butcher paper on her wall.  We named the key players and interest groups on her team, and how they connected to each other.  We thought about each person or group individually in terms of what they valued, their relationships, and their power to either support or challenge progress toward Isabel’s goal.  As we worked, Isabel began to see how her actions created dissonance for her people, and how their reactions were actually consistent with what they valued. Isabel’s biggest a-ha: their actions are predictable!  Her resistance melted away as she began to see the power in predicting her team’s reactions and proactively engaging to avoid being ambushed.

Isabel and I then applied the web to moving forward towards her goal.  We began by identifying her supporters.  She was unpleasantly surprised to realize how few she had.  From there we identified which people or groups were most likely to become supporters with some effective engagement from Isabel.

The key to getting that engagement was Isabel’s ability to figure out what these people valued, and what they needed from her. 

One person valued his standing on the team.  He needed an apology, and to be consulted on the new model.   Another group worried about the impact of the new approach on families.  They needed Isabel to affirm this worry and collaborate with them to find a solution.  Isabel had no idea what several people or groups needed, and realized that she needed to go find out.

Next, we focused on the people in the web who were actively resisting the new system.  I supported Isabel to build some empathy for these people—to see the noble story they were likely telling themselves that justified their actions.  Then I helped her understand the tactics these folks were using to influence other stakeholders across the web.  Again, Isabel had to figure out what these people needed from her to move from resistance to motivation, or at least compliance.

As she brainstormed, Isabel was building new appreciation for the range of influencing strategies she needed to embrace to get her organizational web behind her initiative.

By the time we were done, Isabel had created a complex visual representation of her stakeholders and their values, power, and relationships.  While this was all done in the context of her after-school system, Isabel realized that she could apply most of this map—reactively or proactively—to other leadership challenges.  We continued to use this map, or create new ones, over time as Isabel continued to build her organizational awareness.   Happily, she is no longer the fly caught in her web, and is on her way to becoming the spider.

Recommended reading:

Organizational awareness primerOur new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman, George Pitagorsky, and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Organizational Awareness: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

Additional primers so far include: