How can leaders increase their influence? - HR Future helps people prepare for the Future of Work and is South Africa's leading print, digital and online Human Resources magazine.

How can leaders increase their influence?

If you were to ask people what they rated as the most necessary quality for someone to be a successful leader, you would probably get many answers. And it’s highly likely that there would be a measure of truth in all of their answers. But one ingredient stands out above them all.

As the world becomes increasingly connected, the need increases for business leaders to be socially intelligent. In the days when so-called left-brained logic prevailed, Social Intelligence, also referred to as SI or SQ, was considered a “soft skill” and was dismissed as lightweight and fluffy. That was because, for the majority of the last century, people in the workplace did what they were told. That, however, is no longer the case today.

Leaders have to wake up to the new reality that the power gap that existed between them and their employees has vanished. Employees won’t slavishly obey their CEO or manager without question. Generation Y (Gen Why) employees will want good reasons for doing what they’re asked to do.

Social Intelligence is therefore probably the most important quality a leader needs. Without it, he or she is merely an expert with an important title and a big salary.

In a nutshell, Social Intelligence involves the ability to get along with others and win their support and co-operation. Sounds pretty simple, but not many leaders have it or, at least, they don’t display or apply it, if they do have it. In one word, it’s about relationships. If you can’t form and sustain high value relationships with the people you lead, you have no influence in their lives. The better the relationship, the greater the influence. And one thing you need to be an effective and successful leader, is influence. When you have no influence, you have low engagement and don’t achieve anything of significance.

There are three very basic ways leaders can build relationships with people at any level in their companies.

1 You have to connect through commonalities

All relationships exist and thrive because of common interests. This applies to every relationship imaginable. The commonalities may be very different in each relationship but they’re there and they provide the glue that keeps the relationship intact.            

What could a CEO have in common with a worker on the shopfloor, you may ask. I’m glad you did! How about the fact that they may both be fathers or mothers (or share any other family-type commonality? They also work for the same company – yes, unless the CEO is the owner of the business, s/he is also an employee and they have that in common. It takes imagination and creativity to find those commonalities, but when you find them, the glue works. Executives who consider themselves to be above “employee” status because of their positions do themselves no favours. A little bit of humility goes a long way in building relationships.

When you find and focus on those commonalities, you suddenly have a relationship and, with that, comes real influence.

2 You have to express mutual trust and affection

No relationship can be productive in the absence of trust and affection. Think about the beneficial relationships you have with people. You’ll realise that you trust one another and you like one another.

If leaders wish to influence people, it’s worth getting those people to actually like them. You might however feel that people are paid to do their job so you don’t care whether they like you or not. They must just do what they’re paid to do. Mmmmm … that sounds very good in the boardroom but have you seen the damage people can do just because they don’t like you? And that damage can be passive damage – caused not by what they do but by what they don’t do. Your choice. If you invest some time and effort in getting people to like you (and that doesn’t mean giving in to every demand they make – they still won’t like you even if you do give in to them), you will have a workforce that really wants to go the extra mile for you.

3 Have one another’s best interests at heart.

When you have a relationship with someone who has your best interests at heart, unless you’re a cynical, selfish human being, you will inevitably act in their best interests too. The same applies to you and your team. Leaders who establish credibility in the eyes of their workers by demonstrating that they act in their workers’ best interests will have a loyal and dedicated workforce.

Of course these three factors work synergistically – when you connect with people by finding commonality regardless of your or their position in the company, you win them round. When you act in someone’s best interests, you win their trust. When you win their trust, you have significant influence in their lives.

Try it. It works. Guaranteed!

Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag, and assists executives to prevent, reverse and delay ageing, and achieve self-mastery.

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