Influence is identified as one of Matter’s top soft skills linked to performance and career success. Contrary to popular belief, soft skills like influence can also be learned and developed just like any hard skills. Matter helps professionals tease out blindspots and areas for growth in skills like influence through regular peer-to-peer feedback.

What Is Influence

Definition of Influence: Convinces others to listen and do things that positively impact the team or company.

Great leaders understand that influence is more than just persuasion or power. It’s about inspiring people around you to share a common vision or goal. It’s about getting buy-in rather than strong arming someone into following your ideas blindly. As Paul Larsen puts it, “influence is having people follow you because of what you represent.”

Great Influencers You May Know

Anne Wojcicki: After starting the biotechnology firm 23andme, Wojcicki learned through genetic testing that her former husband was at high risk for Parkinson’s disease. Shortly after that event, the Federal Drug Administration banned her company from offering that same kind of genetic insights to consumers. Not one to back down from a challenge, Wojcicki influenced the FDA as an advocate. She spoke with anyone who was willing to talk with her: scientists, politicians, lawyers, and customers. It took two years of hard work, but eventually, the FDA relented. Wojcicki won the right to offer this kind of life-changing data and analysis to consumers once again.

Mary Barra: Within days of taking the helm of General Motor, Barra faced a major crisis: a defect that caused the deaths and injury of a hundred drivers and passengers. Rather than making excuses and hiding from the problem, she admitted fault and recalled 30 million vehicles. In a company all-hands, Barra reminded her team, ”I never want to put this behind us. I want to put this painful experience permanently in our collective memories.” By apologizing and taking ownership of the problem, she regained trust from the public and her team.

Safra Catz: When she first joined Oracle, Catz’s influence was immediately recognized, which led to her being promoted to vice president within seven months. Not only did Catz influence those around her, she also won the trust of Larry Ellison, the CEO at the time. In one meeting, Ellison mentioned he had somewhere else to be at and attempted to leave the meeting. ”Safra grabbed him by the arm,” recalls one participant, ”and said, ’Larry, you can’t leave. This is important. And I know you have the time for this.’ And he sat back down. No one else at Oracle could do that.” Today, Catz is co-CEO of Oracle and one of the most influential executives in Silicon Valley.

Why Influence Is Important

  • Innovation: Leaders lead through influence, not authority. They inspire people to share a common goal and empower them to act. When individuals feel like they are heard and part of a vision, they’re more collaborative and invested to success.
  • Respect: Influence is about putting in the effort and hard work. Leaders influence by demonstrating to their team that they’re an equal and are willing to roll up their sleeves to get work done.
  • Trust: Leaders influence not only through decisions, but also the people around them. They know when to admit fault and apologize. Trust is built when your teams know that you’re someone who’s genuine and authentic.

What Influence Isn’t About

  • Pressure: Influence is not about pressuring or forcing others to do things your way. While standardized processes are important for efficiency, leaders know how to influence others to do their best work and offer their best ideas.
  • Manipulation: Great leaders never view influence as control. They understand that nobody, whether it be a peer or customer, wants to feel like they are being manipulated. Leaders focus on getting buy-in over deploying tricks.
  • Calling The Shots: Leaders never let their influence get into their head. They don’t take their influence for granted. As a matter of fact, leaders influence more when they listen over decision making.

Abilities That Lead To The Mastery of Influence

Apologizing when appropriate: Apologizing sparingly doesn’t undermine your influence. Rather, it can strengthen your appeal to those around. Apologies can build trust in those around you by demonstrating “empathic concern.”

Connecting emotionally: While many people like to see graphs and numbers to help make a decision, connecting with people emotionally will help you be more influential. People like to feel a bond with others. It’s what makes us feel like we want to help others out. The ability to connect on an emotional level with others will help you gain their support with your work initiatives.

Cultivating your personal brand: Influential leaders consciously and proactivity manage their personal brand and reputation. A personal brand can be defined as “what people say about you when you are not there”. It is made up of a number of key elements from how you present yourself, what you say and what you don’t say, and who you associate with.

Giving lots of praise: Always be authentically praising your peers, even when you actually want to improve someone’s performance. While it might sound counterintuitive to praise someone who needs to improve their performance, it’s an effective technique.

Helping others succeed: The most effective leaders realize that success is not about them personally but more about the success of others and their team. Leadership is about helping others to become more successful and removing any potential barriers, such as company politics, a negative culture or excessive bureaucracy, that might hinder that success.

Listening more: People with the most influence are the best listeners, not talkers. Research shows that people who listen well can reap both informational and relational benefits that make them more influential. That’s because hearing what colleagues have to say fosters two key elements for gaining influence: forming trust and learning new information.

Maintaining composure: Everyday management situations can incite fight-or-flight emotions in any reasonable person. Demanding customers, employees, and misdirection from leadership can create frustration and rising emotions in even the most seasoned managers. An essential element of leadership is maintaining your composure, no matter the scenario.

Making new connections: Successful leadership depends on making new connections. A mountain of research shows that making new connections leads to an improved capacity to influence others, and greater status and authority.

Saying “yeah” more: When you begin a response with the positive word, “yeah,” you’re “framing a suggestion as an agreement with a previous suggestion”. When your idea “comes across as if it were in line with the previous thoughts by others, the suggestion has a higher chance of being accepted.”

Smiling more: When you smile more, you create a more positive atmosphere which will result in a more positive attitude in both yourself and in your teams. When you smile more, it builds a stronger connection with your teams and makes you more approachable. It also makes you appear more approachable, and people love to feel connected to their leaders.

Treating everyone equally: Nearly everyone has their favorite go-to person for sharing information, leading projects, asking for advice, etc. However, as an inclusive leader, you must keep a watch on this behavior. Favoritism can decrease morale, act as a de-motivator for the team, dampen performance and increase attrition.

Working hard and consistently: Being a consistent hard worker and performer will gain you respect which in turn will help you be influential at work.

Explore Roles That Benefit From Influence

Who can benefit from practicing influence? Matter is helping professionals at all levels get actionable feedback to improve their influence.

  • CEOs who are looking to become better leaders and cultivate company culture
  • Designers who want to grow their professional and soft skills
  • Freelancers who work without a traditional team and want feedback
  • Project Managers looking to improve their cross-functional collaboration skills
  • Software Engineers who aspire to become a tech lead or manager

Explore Complementary Skills to Influence

Influence shouldn’t be practiced in a vacuum. Improve your influence by exploring and developing these complementary skills.

  • Coaching: Provides guidance to help others achieve their goals
  • Communication: Clearly conveys information to others (written or verbal)
  • Empathy: Possesses the ability to connect with other people’s thoughts and emotions
  • Leadership: Convinces others to listen and do things that positively impact the team or company
  • Supportiveness: Listens and provides help for individual or team in an encouraging, sensitive manner

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