A leader’s success is often determined by his or her ability to influence others to achieve specific goals and objectives. This is likely not a surprise, but take a minute to reflect on how much time you actually spend helping leaders develop their ability to influence others. If your answer is, “Probably not enough,” then you are like most organizations. In today’s competitive landscape, most leaders would benefit from spending more time learning how to enhance their ability to influence.
A leader’s ability to effectively influence will likely determine the level of effort that followers will contribute. Team members respond to leader direction with different levels of effort: the minimum required effort to achieve the minimum required results; the minimum required effort, plus additional voluntary contributions to enhance results; and effort below the minimum requirement, regardless of potential negative consequences. In certain circumstances, high achievers may demonstrate the ability to produce strong results regardless of their leader relationship, but over time, the work often becomes painful, and the risk of burnout increases. While additional variables and circumstances may also contribute to results, the leader’s ability to influence is a primary driver for team member effort.
Here are four factors that contribute to a leader’s ability to influence others.
1. Communication Style
Does the leader communicate direction in an understandable and kind manner, or are his or her messages vague, incomplete or conveyed with the feathery touch of a sledgehammer? Fuzzy direction leads to frustration, inefficiencies and off-target results, and while abrupt and harsh communications may be effective in the short term, they are damaging to long-term relationships. In most cases, leader influence correlates with the strength of the relationships between the leader and the team members.
Leaders must learn that their communication style will improve or degrade relationships. Oral and written messages must be clear and specific. Employees generally want to do good work and align their priorities with what they perceive the leader wants. The more effectively a leader communicates his or her priorities, the more effort team members will contribute to accomplish them. Effective leaders provide clear and frequent communication regarding business priorities and convey information respectfully.
This factor can be a make-or-break trait. Is the leader consistent with their direction, how they treat people, their expectations and their approach to holding people accountable? Do they say what they mean and mean what they say? Do their actions match their words?
Team members closely monitor leader behavior and direction for consistency. Leader consistency enhances influence, because team members know what to expect and how to respond, and they understand the leader’s perspective. Alternatively, volatile behavior, inappropriate communications or lack of follow-through on assignments quickly inhibits a leader’s ability to influence. For example, if a leader meets with her team and tells them that finishing reports on time is important, and they see her turn in reports late, how seriously are they going to take her request? Let’s say another leader tells his staff that he has an “open-door” policy, but when they come to his office, he is short-fused and tells them they should not interrupt him. How likely are employees to come back and ask for assistance when they need it?
Influential leaders consciously work to remain consistent with their direction, behavior and communications. Encourage leaders to take a minute to reflect on their work over the past two weeks and determine whether there were opportunities to increase their consistency. It is also helpful for them to ask others for feedback.
Does the leader care about their team members as people, and do they convey their appreciation and interest in their success? Team members work harder and demonstrate a higher level of commitment to their leader when they feel that he or she cares about them and is interested in their success. Showing that they care about someone as a person and demonstrating that they are invested in their success strengthens the relationship and increases influence and commitment.
Encourage leaders to take time to mentor team members and provide both constructive feedback and accolades. Feedback is most effective when it is recent and frequent. Additionally, leaders should ask staff members what their personal goals are and then help them create a plan to achieve them. If someone is facing adversity, their leader should keep an open mind, listen and try to support them without criticism. It is possible to be compassionate and still hold individuals accountable.
4. Connection to Purpose
Does the leader connect organizational goals, daily tasks and special projects to an overall mission or purpose? Purpose fuels intrinsic motivation. Leading people is not necessarily about motivating individuals but helping them connect their work to a purpose that serves a greater good. When leaders help people connect those dots, their influence will increase.
Leaders can strengthen these connections to purpose by creating open discussions about how the work of the team or company contributes to a greater purpose. When possible, they should use customer testimonies, pictures and statistics to supplement the discussion. Even the most mundane or transactional jobs usually contribute to a greater good. Successful leaders help others understand why their roles are important.
People don’t have to be good at influencing others to be a leader, but it will certainly make a difference. A leader who is not able to effectively influence is like a car with a flat tire: The vehicle may still be able to move, but it won’t be as effective as a vehicle with four tires filled with air. As you work to develop leaders or yourself, spend time focusing on these four factors of influence to strengthen relationships and achieve extraordinary results.