Influencing is one of the key factors behind companies that manage to develop and survive in our current complex business world. The ability of leaders or managers of those organizations to influence each other and other people that are working with them is a competitive advantage. When people are influenced they feel that the final decision is theirs and they will do everything that they can to prove their decision right. When people told to do their work, they just do the best that they can.
Why does leadership and management struggle with influencing?
People influenced by authentic people like them, not by authority, rank or fake behavior.
There are many reasons managers or leaders struggling with influence. Part of those reasons is an outcome of management mental models, their management practice, the structure they put in place, and the culture they created. Part of them is the outcome of employees’ perception and interpretation of what they see.
The first, and I believe the most common, the reason is the concept of hierarchy, rank, and entitlement. Even if a leader understands the need and benefit of influence. The fact that people report to him and he has a way to control their destination in the company pushes him to give orders in time of pressure. After all, it takes minutes to tell someone what to do. It takes a lot of time to prepare the ground for influence and more time to influence people. By the way, if a leader already spent the time to create the right conditions to influence, one order will destroy months of work.
People are influenced by people like them. A leader needs to spend time and effort (and to give up entitlement) to give people the genuine feeling that he is a person, not a manager. That he is part of a team. If people don’t feel that way, most of the time they will do what is being asked just to be complied with expectations. Their actions result from compliance, not influence. A big difference.
Influence is working when people feel it comes from true passion or concern. If there are hints that the influence attempt is coming from any personal reason or aspiration, they won’t be open to being influenced. It means that you can influence just in areas that you passionate about. People have very effective senses to detect if an attempt to influence is coming from true passion or hidden reason. Regretfully people trying to influence where they don’t have any passion, just a need.
To influence other people, one needs to prove his point with actions. Usually, an influencer is trying to change people’s thoughts or actions. Before asking other people to make a change, the influencer needed to show that he took the effort to implement his suggestions by himself. Convincing others requires taking risks and actions. It’s rare to see leaders that will take risks, so the influence attempt is usually coming with no backup actions.
Last but not least, influencing involves many people. The influencer might recruit them one by one, but he needs a certain mass to support him to make a change. To achieve such an influence, the influencer needs to work outside of the formal reporting line. He needs to research and plan on where he needs to start. Even if managers planning for influence (hardly happened), they are following just the reporting lines that they feel comfortable with.
For all the reasons above managers and leaders, that should depend on influencing, struggle with one of their main tools. By the way, people with no authority and rank find it easier to influence their peers than managers.
How to make a change?
First and foremost, leaders need to find a way how to change their perception as managers. Influence is an action done by peers, not by someone that has the authority and ability to change people’s future. This is probably one of the hardest changes for leaders/managers. Most of the leaders/managers reach the rank for an internal reason. Part of them driven by a personality that requires quick results rather than a long process of influence. To influence, you need to give up those treats and replace them with pure passion, actions, and trust that takes a lot of time to build.
Ignore the formal reporting lines and use the underline network. There are two advantages of using the informal network for influencing. First, using informal network leaders not using any authority. Second, using the informal network one can recruit more supporters that will help to increase the impact of influence ten times more than support by a few supporters in the formal structure. Using this approach enable to spread of the influence cycle to a population that helps to reach the end goal, but is not part of organization reporting lines.
Remember that there is a tricky border between influencing and manipulation. People are sensitive to manipulation and they can detect it easily. Once someone tagged as a manipulator he can’t change this perception. As a manipulator, you lost your ability to influence. One way to make sure that people will see your honest influence attempt is to use what they experience daily as part of the influence process. Using real-life examples requires time and effort, but it adds a lot to the authenticity of any influence. Peers can influence much more because they know the daily struggles and they can use them as arguments when they try to influence others.
Knowing people’s interactions, impacts, and information and materials flow between them can be very beneficial for understanding where to start influence efforts. This data not just helpful to identify people that can help with influencing, it also gives information on daily work and challenges that should be used by influencers. Feel free to explore our framework that simplified and structure the process of collecting, analyzing, and improving those interlinks.