Leadership and the art of influence

An inspiring post today from Neil Crofts about how influence lies at the very heart of leadership:

One of the frequent challenges I hear in leadership development sessions is that even after they have agreed something as a team, people want to renegotiate or that a leader struggles to gain alignment with their team or with stakeholders.

This is about influence and influence is at the very heart of leadership.

Let us start with what influence is not. Influence is not getting people to do things that serve your personal priorities, prejudices or ego needs, that is manipulation. There is no doubt that manipulative characters can get people (even strong people) to do things that are against their moral code or even interests.

By contrast, influence is about listening, explaining, connecting, building trust and negotiating with people to change the way they think or act. For a leader, influence is used to align people to the course of action that delivers the greatest sustainable value to the organisation.

Here we are talking about influence not manipulation.

The most influential leaders have a strong sense of purpose, which they communicate clearly. A purpose that others identify with and in turn enrol more people to. Vision for how the purpose is realised is much more open to debate and interpretation by the followers – but the purpose is non-negotiable and is fully owned and embodied by the leader – even if the leader is not it’s author.

The most influential leaders also have a strong code. They have clear boundaries of behaviour and process that clarify how things are done and not done. The influential leader will both embody and enforce the code consistently and repeatedly. This will mean enrolling the team in the code so that everyone is committed to the same boundaries and then reminding people quickly if the code is broken, including themselves.

The most influential leaders are excellent in communication and integrity. Their words, their decisions and their actions are all completely aligned with their purpose and their code – even when it is uncomfortable or it puts them in a minority. Influential leaders use words and language with great skill and intentionality. They are also highly self aware realising the impact of every mood, word or action on those around them and the effect that people and events have on them.

The most influential leaders are humble it is much easier to follow people we identify with than people who set themselves apart as an elite. Their humility helps them to be excellent listeners who are able to understand the inner reality maps of others to better understand how to communicate with them.

The most influential leaders nurture their most influential followers. Without followers leaders are just disconnected voices. The best leaders have excellent followers because they are excellent themselves. They deliberately recruit and nurture a diverse set of followers some of whom they disagree with quite profoundly – they do this because they recognise the value of diversity of thought in formulating the best solutions and strategies.

Leadership is a choice and not an appointment. Just because someone has the title of “leader” does not mean they are one. Equally, there are many leaders who have not yet been given the title. Leadership is non-hierarchical.

The first person a leader needs to be able to lead is themselves. To do this they need to have the self awareness to be able to notice, interpret and regulate their own emotions. Leadership is first and continuously a journey of self-discovery.

Leadership is challenging. The rewards are seeing individuals that you have nurtured achieve far more than they thought they were capable of. The rewards are seeing teams align and pull together to achieve something amazing. The rewards are seeing an organisation creating value for itself by creating value for its stakeholders.

Leadership is a team sport. Leaders do not achieve greatness on their own. They must have some excellent support and followership. I don’t believe there are any world-class players in any field who manage it without some coaching or mentoring. Learning only by trial and error or experience is just too slow. Most leaders have to be specialists in their field and don’t have the bandwidth to also be specialists in leadership. Great leaders need the help of specialists who study leadership to guide and support them through its challenges.