This is part of a series about the attributes and behaviors of professionals who have elevated their leadership impact and reached the next level of success. To read previous posts about next-level leadership, please click here.
Her frustration was clearly visible. I was meeting with a coaching client, and she described the progress she had made in her current position. She was consistently reaching her quarterly goals. She implemented process improvements that saved money for the department. She was participating on a trade association committee. As far as she could tell, she was well-liked by her team. Despite all of that, she still felt like her career was stuck.
“I’m doing all the right things, but I’m just not influential enough to get noticed. The people moving up in the organization seem to be naturally charismatic and articulate, and that’s just not my personality. How will I ever compete?”
Being influential is one of those intangible qualities that are difficult to describe but remarkably obvious when we see them in action. It’s also an attribute that is essential for those who aspire to next-level leadership. Luckily, being influential isn’t just reserved for those who are outgoing and outspoken. There are plenty of strategies and tactics that can help motivated professionals adjust the way they are seen by others, making the important shift from “helpful” to “influential.” Here are a few guidelines to get you started:
Understand your stakeholders
• Identify stakeholder groups that are critical for your success, and evaluate their goals, needs, interests, and concerns. Then think about how to align your goals with theirs to create a win/win partnership.
• Learn about the values of the decision-makers you hope to influence and persuade, and make a connection to those values (directly or indirectly) when presenting proposals or ideas.
Strategically craft your messages
• Focus on the results you want to achieve; then strive to communicate in a clear, compelling and concise way to achieve those results (prompting action, adopting new behaviors, changing attitudes, etc.).
• Frame the issue from the stakeholders’ perspective to demonstrate that you can see the problem or issue from their viewpoint.
• Emphasize value so your messages instantly matter to your audience. Highlight benefits and advantages that make their jobs easier and help them improve performance.
• Provide a high-level overview and wait to provide additional details as needed to avoid getting bogged down.
• Tie your proposals or ideas to existing initiatives or challenges that have already been acknowledged to gain immediate traction.
• Be able to support your messages with thorough research, sound reasoning, and well-thought-out arguments to neutralize objections.
• Create a sense of urgency by providing time-sensitive reasons for taking action or changing a mindset: shifting market demand, potential for lost opportunities, new regulations, or volatile economic indicators.
• Bring your ideas to life using powerful language, vivid examples, and strong images.
Build alliances and work collaboratively
• Seek out senior-level champions, sponsors or mentors within your organization who can use their influence to help promote you and your ideas to others.
• Ask trusted advisors for recommendations on strategies to win support from key colleagues, groups and decision-makers.
• Meet with key stakeholders before a major presentation or proposal to test out your ideas, clarify your message, and work out any kinks.
• Build give-and-take relationships throughout the organization. Show awareness and concern for others to strengthen those connections.
• Find ways to involve other colleagues and co-workers in the development of a new idea or solution. This generates early buy-in and a broad base of support over time.
• Observe others who are known for being influential within your organization, and identify the techniques they frequently use.
Deliver your messages with impact
• Recognize that different influence styles can be equally successful. You can be seen as influential whether you are naturally outgoing and passionate or more quiet and reserved. The right preparation will give you all the confidence you need when delivering your ideas.
• Demonstrate enthusiasm and energy when stating your opinions by using effective eye contact and optimal voice tone, pace, and inflection.
• Adapt your communications to align with your stakeholders while staying consistent with your own personal brand. If the stakeholders tend to be logical and vigorous, use those cues to mold your influence style and message delivery.
• Exercise good judgment with the timing of your messages based on the situation and the people involved. Learn to recognize when it’s the right moment to push your ideas forward and when it’s better to hold back. Sometimes you can gain critical momentum by seizing a ripe opportunity, even if you haven’t yet perfected your idea or proposal.
Being perceived as influential is an important attribute for professionals who want to advance to the next level. As my client was relieved to learn, people with all dispositions and personality types can implement strategies to help them become more influential, gaining the elusive workplace clout they need to be successful and get ahead.