Let me ask you… how do you effectively influence people at work?
In today’s landscape, a successful leader is an agent of positive influence. That means being skilled at inspiring others to create with you. What’s most important to know about influential leadership is that it can be learned.
Yes, some people seem to be natural leaders, while others need to learn the skill. And, just as some people naturally take to swimming while others have to work at it, both end up in the same place, and both can benefit, at any stage, from developing their skills further.
In this post, I will guide you to:
- Connect within as your starting point
- Take full responsibility for your impact on the people you lead
- Take full responsibility for your impact within the organization
In this way, you will come to know how to influence others without authority (even if you have authority… and why ditching traditional ideas of authority makes you even more influential), and develop your leadership toolbox to empower all of your interactions, both personal and professional.
(A note on responsibility: It’s not about blame, but about recognizing and embracing the simple truth no matter what is going on around you, how you show up is always a choice.)
Why Does Positive Influence in the Workplace Matter?
Before we get into the hows, let’s consider the whys.
Why does positive influence matter? As a leader, why can’t you just demand that people do what you ask?
Influence needs to come from the heart, from good intentions, from being vulnerable. People can feel if you genuinely care or not. When your leadership comes from a good place, people feel it and automatically connect with you and want to co-create with you.
It’s about the unseen element: intuition. Everyone has a part of themselves that can sense – consciously or not – if someone is genuine. That intuitiveness – also consciously or not – will impact their sense of connection to you and your leadership.
When people feel connected to leadership, it shows up as:
- Greater engagement
- Stronger motivation
- Higher productivity
- Openness to collaboration
- Eagerness to co-create
- Greater enjoyment of and pride in their work and contribution
- Sustainable mindset shifts
That last point – sustainable mindset shifts – is really important. Mindset is where real change begins. Studies from McKinsey & Company have consistently found that failing to both recognize mindsets and shift them can stall just about any change effort within an organization. They reported, in fact, that not only do 70% of change efforts fail, but 72% of those report employee resistance or management behaviour as their greatest roadblock. Additionally, those organizations that do focus on mindset shifts are 4 times more likely to rate their transformation efforts as successful.
That means, the success of any new policies, objectives, or visions hinges on shifting mindsets. Let’s say, for example, you want to start empowering people to take more initiative. You can offer guidance, coaching, seminars, workshops and so on, but if people don’t shift to a mindset that believes it is safe to take initiative and that they are capable of taking initiative, the way they show up will not change.
Positive influence – when practiced consciously and consistently – is a key driver of mindset shifts that are sustainable, and that empower progress.
What Does Positive Influence Look Like?
Positive influence is an overall approach that needs to become embedded in how you show up, every day. Here are a few examples of influencing others at work using an old-school approach vs. a positive approach:
|Old Approach||Positive Approach||The Difference|
|“These are our corporate values. We all need to get behind these and live them day to day.”||“These are our corporate values. I’d like to explore our personal values and see how they can align with the corporate values. I’ll start with sharing mine.”||Old: Ignores the humanity of people and expects them to toe the line.
Positive: Respects the humanness of others and invites them to explore how they fit within the organization. It also starts with vulnerability and living the example by sharing first.
|“This needs to be done ASAP. We don’t have time to try new things, so just do it the usual way. We can talk about other ideas later.”||“This needs to be done ASAP. I feel anxious and tempted to just stick with the old way to get it done, but I know that isn’t always best. How do you feel? What else is possible here?”||Old: Shuts down any opportunity for co-creation or even discussion.
Positive: Starts with vulnerability to connect at a human level. Conveys urgency as well as curiosity to keep the door open for other perspectives. Invites “us together” co-creation. Uses “opening up” questions to open up possibilities.
|“These are our goals for the quarter. Here’s how we’re going to get them done.”||“These are our goals for the quarter. Does anyone see anything that concerns them, or anything that excites them?”||Old: Shuts the door on collaboration and ignores the wealth of ingenuity that different people bring to the table.
Positive: Taps into the mind power of people by opening with a broad question that will start teasing out potential roadblocks in advance, and open up new alleys of possibility for the team and the organization.
As you can see, positive influence looks a lot like trusting people; always assuming that they are capable of creating solutions, and welcoming them into a shared experience. It’s very much an “us together” approach that treats people as naturally creative, resourceful and whole. When people are treated this way – consistently – it challenges any old, limiting beliefs that may be holding them back from bringing their best self forward. This is when those critical mindset shifts begin to happen, both for you and the people you lead.
In her 2019 TED Talk, Halla Tómasdóttir – former presidential candidate of Iceland and CEO of The B Team, a global non-profit that promotes humanity and climate awareness in business practices – notes that we are experiencing a global crisis of trust in leadership, but that there does still exist trust between employers and employees. Because of this, corporate environments have great potential to become drivers of global change. Both employees and employers can lean into trust to drive positive influence and create shifts within the organization that may even spread beyond the business.
How Can I Increase My Influence?
Increasing your influence with others starts with connecting within; with shifting your mindset.
When we think about how to influence others as a leader, we have to recognize that who we are as leaders is a direct reflection of our personal growth. The more we work on ourselves, the more confident we are, the more impact we can have on others.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to start with you. If you aren’t in a good place with yourself, if you aren’t connected within, if you aren’t fully aligned with the approach you’re bringing forward, that will trigger other people’s intuition and create a roadblock to the human connection you need to create positive influence.
This is a journey. What’s great about this journey is that you start experiencing an impact on yourself and the world around you almost immediately, which continues to grow the further along you go.
Here are 5 steps (with resources) to get you started:
- Get clear on your values.
- Get clear on your purpose.
- Discover and develop your inner leader.
- Become aware of your saboteurs.
- Be transparent and have authentic business conversations.
Taking Full Responsibility
As you begin your journey to connect within, you can also start taking responsibility for:
- Your impact on the people you lead;
- Your impact within the organization.
Responsibility is about how you show up. It’s saying, “I can’t control other people’s behaviour or what happens around me, but I can control how I respond and the approach I take each and every day.”
Here’s how to influence others positively:
1. Take a genuine interest in people and embrace vulnerability.
Knowing what matters to people is probably the most valuable tool in creating influence. When you know, for example, that a team member has a personal goal of being home in time for family dinner, you know that extra hours, even with a financial incentive, isn’t going to engage them. Instead, working with the schedule they value is how you show them they’re valued and get them engaged in co-creating solutions when workload is high. Know that sharing what matters to us or what’s going on in our personal lives takes some vulnerability. That’s scary for many people. Combat that fear by living the example. Be willing to get vulnerable first, showing people that it’s safe and acceptable to do so. It’s not about being vulnerable all the time, or over-sharing your emotions or experiences. It’s about those moments when you need to show people who you are and to share your truth, just as Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz discovered by letting himself get emotional in addressing his employees. It’s been said that the currency of leadership is transparency. Don’t be afraid to be real when it counts. Beyond understanding how – and how not – to influence people, taking a genuine interest makes them feel seen and appreciated, and far more likely to follow your lead.
2. Listen. Really. And ask powerful questions.
The secret to better conversations is how you listen. Not just hearing words and letting people speak, but really digging in and being with people, showing them that you genuinely want to hear them. When people raise concerns, objections, or differing perspectives, lean into what they’re saying. Repeat back – “I see what you’re saying. From where you’re sitting, this new feature is out of line with our overall objective.” – so they hear that you’ve heard, that you accept their perspective, and that their input matters. When someone raises an opinion that differs from yours, it can be reflexive to go on the defensive. But defensiveness has a negative influence – it pushes people away. Instead, lean into curiosity with powerful questions and listen. Listening to someone doesn’t mean they “win”. It simply means respecting different perspectives and considering all possibilities. And everyone wins that way.
3. Create a shared sense of purpose.
In his much-viewed TED Talk, Simon Sinek stated (multiple times), “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” True influence hinges on the ‘why’ and creating a shared sense of purpose is all about defining your ‘why’.We all have unique values, strengths and passions. When you can guide people to align those with a shared purpose – a collective ‘why’ – magic happens. Create a purpose statement for your team. Better yet, get your team to draft it together. If your organization has a mission statement, use that for inspiration and to stay aligned with corporate objectives, and ensure the purpose statement you arrive at is uniquely suited to your team – their contributions, their strengths, etc. Once you have a statement draft, get a discussion going around how each person feels that statement intersects with their own values, strengths and passions. You may even want to have each team member craft a personal statement that embodies their role and contribution within the team and/or organization. Then, make it a consistent element of your team’s day-to-day experience. At least once a week, connect to discuss how the team is collectively aligned with your ‘why’ and anything that feels out of sync. Put up posters as visual reminders and recognize, out loud, when you notice people working towards the team’s purpose. When people come together around a shared purpose and clearly see how they contribute and how the purpose serves them (personally or professionally), engagement, enthusiasm, motivation and collaboration naturally follow. That’s positive influence in action.
4. Commit to a culture of truth.
When people know you as someone who will say what needs to be said – even if it’s difficult – with compassion, curiosity and an us-together approach, you become known as someone to trust, and people are far more likely to follow someone they trust. Speaking your own truth is how it starts. From there, commit to cultivating an overall culture of trust, respect and engagement that creates a safe space for truth to come forward. Leading this safe space allows people to connect with you, and align with you, on a deeper level. Here are 9 practices for creating a culture of truth.
5. Use the mental models worksheet to develop understanding.
A person of influence understands their own strengths, values, challenges and perspectives, and does their best to understand the same in others. Using the mental models worksheet found here, you can actively develop your clarity on what truly matters to you and why. The worksheet will also help open your mind to what might matter most to others. This mind-opening exercise preps you to meet others with curiosity and compassion, showing them that you are a person of integrity, capable of truly listening, meeting people where they are, and co-creating solutions that work for everyone.
6. Focus on belonging.
People feel most engaged when they feel that they belong. Belonging is a powerful motivator and a genuine one when it is built around the belief that everything human is welcome. All experiences, ideas, perspectives, ways of being… all of it is worthy and welcome. Encourage people to bring their ‘weird’ to work – the things about them that aren’t weird at all, but are unique and human. Some companies have one day each month when employees share their side passions, interests, hobbies or even elements of their culture. Others weave this into their workplace fabric with potluck lunches, “lunch and learn” discussions, flexible schedules to accommodate personal lives, support for volunteering efforts, support for continued (not always work-related) education and so on. It’s about creating an environment where people belong, not because of their similarities, but because they’re uniquely human. This is at the heart of diversity and inclusion. Instead of getting people to fit into the system, true belonging asks, “How can the system shift/evolve/regrow to work for everyone within it?” When people feel and see that their humanity matters more than upholding old, broken systems, they can begin to feel a true sense of belonging that motivates and empowers them to align their strengths and passions with what you’re trying to create. Here are 5 ways to start putting the focus on belonging. As a leader, what you do ripples out. Focus on belonging with the team around you and it will impact the larger organization.
Influence really is all about you. How you consciously show up determines your impact, and your relationship with yourself determines how you show up. If you truly want to increase your influence at work, start within and let it grow from there.
If you would like guidance developing your influence and leadership, for yourself or your team, I invite you to connect with me.