A vital skill for leaders at all levels is the ability to positively influence people in such a way that makes others follow and act willingly – as opposed to complying because of their position or bestowed authority.
However, the challenge many leaders face is that they find it hard to exert their authority without coming across as an unapproachable, dogmatic and old-fashioned leader.
Some try so hard not to come across as a hard taskmaster that they actually come across as too laid back and become disempowered and their leadership undermined.
A survey carried out by Censuswide last July showed that employees associate particular qualities with being a ‘modern manager’ – with being approachable (32%), having respect for colleague’s opinions (29%) and working for the good of the team (29%) coming out on top. In contrast almost a third connect being hierarchical and separate from staff with being an ‘old-fashioned’ leader.
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But how do leaders get the balance right and remain approachable and friendly without losing their ability to influence?
Tailor to personality types
One of the best ways to influence people in a positive way at work is for a leader to tailor their behaviour to different styles of people in the company.
Everyone sees and hears things in a unique way, filtering what they hear according to their own preconceptions. This means that even if a leader thinks they are communicating something very clearly, it can be interpreted in a number of different ways depending on the type of person they are talking to.
For simplicity, consider that there are four main characteristics of people:
- Driver: Direct and results-driven
- Expressive: Outgoing, creative and sociable
- Amiable: Dependable, easy-going and sensitive
- Analytical: Systematic and logical
By assigning one of these character types to each employee, managers can tailor their approach appropriately for each individual making their communication much more effective and achieving greater influence.
Those who fall into the ‘Driver’ category can be impatient and tire quickly of long-winded conversations, so the best approach with this type of person is to be direct and to the point.
The ‘Expressives’ on the other hand respond to social interaction and crave recognition, this type of person is best influenced by asking for their opinions and including them in the decision-making process.
Those who fall into the ‘Amiables’ category can struggle to get their ideas across and so patience is required when dealing with them, they will be concerned about how changes will impact people and value an environment without conflict.
People who are ‘Analyticals’ can lack the personal touch when dealing with people and appreciate strong fact-supported arguments.
Create personal power
To increase their influence, leaders should also seek to develop their personal power rather than overuse power derived solely from their position of authority in a company.
There are two types of power: positional (bestowed) and personal (innate). Positional power is bestowed by the role but should not be over used. The over use of positional power will undermine someone’s personal power which comes as a result their presence, knowledge and inclusiveness.
Someone’s power is made up of relationships, as well as their presence and expertise. A lot more gets done when people like each other – we are social animals and relationships are essential. The Censuswide survey stressed this point. It showed that a quarter of respondents who have a good relationship with their manager say it makes them work harder as a result.
Communication and storytelling
Another important factor for leaders who want to influence people is to demonstrate active listening which shows they respect their employee’s thoughts and opinions. Ensuring good listening skills and giving feedback on employee’s concerns or ideas will help to strengthen relationships.
Effective influencing also requires great communication skills and persuasive arguments. However, leaders must be authentic. Employees want real from the heart expressiveness whereas they will be able to detect any hidden agendas. Body language helps but storytelling is even more powerful. Storytelling in business can be used to communicate and connect with employees and effective stories can change opinions and help create a personal connection between the audience and the outcome of the story.
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Storytelling can be particularly effective when a leader is communicating change. Change is an inevitable part of work life but resistance to change is all too common. A story can motivate people and capture their imagination, and help people understand that change isn’t always bad. Understanding the reasons for resistance to change is key to overcoming it.
When crafting a story about change a leader should ask:
- Do people understand the consequences of inaction?
- Do they understand the benefits of change – especially to them?
- What sacrifices and risks are they seeing from change?
- What would minimise their worries?
By addressing these fears and uncertainties in a story a leader can help their audience craft a new more positive view. Instead of focussing on the ‘what’ of change, choose a story that explains the ‘why’ – the implications and consequences, why change is important and why it is important to those involved. A simple, memorable universal truth story about a person who solves a problem by taking a certain course of action is usually most effective. Compared with other persuasion methods a story allows the audience to come to the desired conclusion on their own.
The most influential leaders are those who are authentic, who hold a strong belief both in themselves and in their vision and who communicate this successfully.
It takes work and commitment but the most successful leaders can influence the whole culture of an organisation. Steve Jobs is a prime example of this. Although Jobs died in 2011, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook believes that Jobs’ influence still strongly impacts on how the company operates today. Apple didn’t start working on its smartwatch until after Jobs’ death, but Cook is in no doubt that his influence is still strongly present in the product.
“To me, it’s not a big deal whether he saw something or didn’t,” Cook said. “It’s his thinking, and his taste and his incredible perfectionist kind of view, and his view that you should always innovate. All of those things are alive and well in the company.”
Stephen Archer is a business consultant and director of Spring Partnerships
Further reading: Why you should let your employees develop