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Opinion: 6 ways leaders can influence positively

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A half a century ago, management experts advised leaders to understand employees’ motivations better and to influence rather than dictate to them.

Although 50 years have passed, I don’t see positive influencing skills necessarily typifying a manager’s approach today any more than it did then. Too many managers still lean on authority, charisma or abilities in organization and strategic planning. While those aspects have their place, the best leaders also focus on principled leadership, as well as convincing and inspiring people to change behaviors and leverage their efforts to accomplish the team’s goals.

The skill to sway people’s behavior instead of ordering them is a mile apart in the results it brings. I’ve seen leaders increase employee engagement, retention and customer experience by improving their ability to influence people.

Somewhat surprising, perhaps, is that leaders who are good at influencing aren’t hesitant about forcing people to get things done when they must, especially if someone isn’t supportive of change. I’ve also observed in them a relentless persistence to get must-have results over being perceived by employees as a popular or so-called “nice” boss.

But they are popular with employees because they don’t resort to command and control tactics to get people to do what they want to have done. Here are six ways smart leaders have a positive influence on others.

1. Connect with people. Understanding what matters to people is essential to connect with them. One leader I coached believed he knew what his employees valued in the workplace, and yet he could not articulate those things, nor could he explain their impact on the organization’s performance. To connect with people, be a caring leader who takes sufficient time to relate with and understand them.

2. Make your vision and goals convincing. Having a clear vision, goals and a plan gives people a much-needed framework to get behind. Selling people on how something will benefit everyone is critical because if you can’t convince people the goals are worth the required time and effort, the project is doomed before it starts. Be clear about your vision and goals, then convince others it’s advantageous to pursue.

3. Create and maintain trust. A leader’s ability to create and maintain sufficient trust has very little to do with intelligence or personal charisma. Knowledgeable leaders know that building trust requires engaging people, asking the right questions and being a good listener. It involves integrity, honesty and believability. I once witnessed a CEO lose his credibility and trust over a single issue, and it made earning it back nearly impossible.

4. Get across the board cooperation. When leading change, it’s easier to influence behavior if the people work directly under your purview. The test comes when you must convince people to cooperate but lack the authority to require it. When this happens, I suggest first to win the support of managers with influence, in effect leveraging their impact on the outcomes. It’s also important to inform people why the change is needed and what’s in it for them.

5. Use insights to influence. I worked with a leader once who was exceptional at understanding what made people tick. By making it a priority to understand what motivated and influenced each person to give their best effort every day, he could communicate with and convince employees to be willing, energetic supporters of the organization’s goals.

6. Execute flawlessly. Leaders who are good at executing a plan have an advantage because a poor implementation is the most common reason why most change efforts fail. Flawless execution involves constant communication throughout the ranks and the involvement of employees as well as all layers of management, not just executives.

Leaders who can leverage the full potential of people will possess the ability to have a positive influence when it’s most needed.

Consultant, professional speaker and author Mark Holmes is president of Consultant Board Inc. and MarkHolmesGroup.com. He can be reached at mark@markholmesgroup.com.

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