What You Don’t Know About Influence Will Limit Your Leadership

I remember my early years in leadership. I was full of energy, ideas, and had very little patience. I was anxious to prove myself. I remember one key decision that I thought was a great move. It made sense to me. I had prepared a defense of my position and was sure it was a slam dunk to get the support of my team to move forward.

When the meeting time came, I was proud of myself for the way I had prepared. I walked to the front of the room and didn’t get three sentences in before I was interrupted by the first of many questions—some of which I hadn’t even considered.  And to be honest, I didn’t have very good answers. That “slam dunk” presentation was only supposed to last about 10 minutes. It went one for the entire meeting time—a whole 90 minutes. That was, without a doubt, the longest meeting of my life.

Leadership requires both authority and influence to be effective.

I learned something very important that day. If I was going to lead a team, I needed to get their input and include that as part of my presentation. I was so impressed with my ideas and my new title that I assumed everyone was waiting for me to come up with the next “big” idea.

It wasn’t funny in the moment, but I can laugh about it now. (What was I thinking?) The truth is I had yet to learn the difference between influence and leadership. I had the title, authority, and position. I could have shoved my ideas forward, but I would have missed out on the tremendous thinking, context, and experience that my team possessed.

Influence isn’t necessarily leadership, and leadership isn’t necessarily influence.

Both words are used in similar context, but they mean very different things. Leadership speaks to the idea of authority and position while influence speaks to the ability to align people and plans to drive toward an outcome.

I’ve met very influential people who aren’t necessarily in a leadership role. At the same time, I’ve met some people in very powerful positions who have little no influence at all.

I’ve come to realize that influence is personal while leadership is often organizational. Those are two distinct realities. Whatever exists on an organizational chart is just half the story. The other have was building a connection with the people I would work closest with the accomplish the results and goals defined.

Next-Level Leadership Will Require a Greater Amount of Influence.

If you want to take your leadership and your team to the next level, you’ll need to understand the ground rules around building and growing your influence over time. Here are seven to consider:

1.     Influence is earned over time. You can get the promotion in a day, but it will take time to earn the opportunity to influence others. You can’t get around this reality.

2.     Influence requires trust. You must earn the confidence of those you lead through consistency in your actions and words. If you say one thing and do another, you’ll never fully realize the power of influence.

3.     Influence is grounded in relationships. You lead initiatives, but you influence people. Being a great leader isn’t about the tasks you can execute as much as how you can assemble and activate the talents and skills of others to drive toward a shared vision.

4.     Influence demands long-term thinking. You can dictate an action in a moment, but you must play the long game if you want to leverage your influence to drive toward breakthrough outcomes.

5.     Influence can’t be faked. There is no getting around it. You either have it, or you don’t. And if you’re not sure, you don’t.

6.     Influence must be reinforced daily. Once you earn influence, you will need to re-earn it again and again. It’s not a blank check tied to an endless bank account. You can have influence one moment then destroy it completely through one or two fatal mistakes.

7.     Influence is the building block of enduring leadership. Leadership, in my opinion, is not contained to one organization or role. It is part of our divine design. That means endurance is the name of the game. If you want to continue to lead decade after decade, then you’ll need to study influence and earn that from those you lead consistently.

There is no magic bullet or “get influence quick” scheme.

If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, run! Earning the right to influence others is hard work because it is deeply entangled within human relationships which are inherently complex. While the concepts of influence might seem straight-forward, business and personal relationships require care and “maintenance” over time if you want them to last.

Without influence, you will always be limited in the strength of your leadership to drive toward breakthrough outcomes. And don’t expect to be the singular influence on every group you lead. Part of your job is to develop the influence of others within and outside the organization. It’s critical to expanding the growth potential and capacity of your organization.

Strategic listening is where it all begins. That will provide the inspiration necessary to build a framework to lead your team through. If you are patient, you’ll find that influence will help you go farther faster. The paradox is it won’t feel like it. But when groups of people work together, you always get more accomplished.

Don’t let yourself become infatuated with the authority your position extends to you. Recognize that without influence it doesn’t mean anything at all.

CHALLENGE: Are you influencing the people you lead or are you demanding they respect your position of authority? How does your definition of leadership change if influence is something you can’t control? Who do you need to build or repair a relationship with today that could help you get closer to your desired outcomes?