One of the toughest things to do is persuade others to follow your lead when you’re not their direct manager. And yet, having influence can be an indicator of leadership potential. It can also help you work your way up to manager. Which is why it’s the fourth most requested focus area among nearly 10,000 participants in Everwise’s mentoring program. Influential leaders can win support for their ideas, spark collaboration and ultimately lead to stronger results.
It takes a bit of effort, time and practice to get influential leadership right. Companies can help develop managers more effectively by teaching them how to successfully influence their co-workers and by providing them with opportunities to practice doing so. Research shows that 90% of retained learning is experiential or social. That’s great news because one of the best ways to influence others in the office, even when they don’t report to you, is through everyday social interactions.
To be a good leader, you need to be trustworthy. Interacting with co-workers can be a part of building trust and help foster credibility, reliability and camaraderie. You’ll see the best results with everyday interactions that are intimate and collaborative. Ask questions that encourage others to talk about themselves so you discover their interests and passions. Social interactions where employees can take a genuine interest in fellow employees is a great way to develop rapport and help employees build their networks. A strong social support network has the added value of resulting in happier employees who are more engaged.
Learning to be both a good listener and a good talker is key. Make those you want to influence feel important. Learn to pay attention to what your colleagues are telling you. Ask for input on a project you are working on. By understanding different perspectives, you can learn how to win support for your projects as well as improve upon them.
Developing emotional intelligence
Through formal and informal social interactions, employees develop soft skills such as social intelligence, communication and empathy that bolster their emotional intelligence. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, emotional intelligence — the awareness of and the ability to regulate one’s own emotions and tune in to others— will be one of the top 10 job skills in 2020. Emotionally intelligent employees can handle pressure, understand and cooperate with others, listen and respond well, set an example for others and are more open to feedback, more empathetic and better decision-makers. Being self and socially aware and knowing what to do with that information helps individuals achieve goals, bring ideas to life and influence others.
Coaching and mentoring programs and peer groups with other managers inside and outside the organization help employees gain confidence as leaders and refine the necessary leadership skills in a personal and lasting way. Give experiential assignments that require employees to get buy in from those outside of their team. Having them report on their progress to a mentor or peer group helps them track and measure their success. And being accountable to a learning community helps employees feel supported and committed to a larger team.
For many leaders today influence is a very effective route to success. They don’t need to carry a big stick. Instead, they influence others by focusing on building trust, fostering relationships and becoming emotionally intelligent. Giving employees more opportunities to test out and practice their skills through peer-to-peer interactions or coaching or mentoring programs is the best way to encourage and develop influential leaders at all levels.