John Maxwell, one of the foremost Leadership gurus of our time, said that “the true measure of leadership is INFLUENCE; nothing more, nothing less.” While that might sound like an over-simplified definition of leadership, we can all agree that one of its greatest characteristics is how well a leader can influence other people into achieving a common goal. And most of the time, that is how we’ll measure a leader’s success or failure.
Influence is not manipulation
Let’s define what influence is by first defining what it is not. Influence is not manipulation. That must be crystal clear for us. Influence and manipulation is also not to be considered as two sides of the same coin, but rather two different ends of a spectrum. They are, and should be, on opposite ends.
Influence is different from persuasion
Influence must also be distinguished from persuasion. While these two terms can and is used interchangeably, there are certain situations that require a better understanding of these two. Persuasion is presenting a case in such a way as to sway the opinion of others, make people believe certain information, or motivate a decision. It can be used to spur someone to action or to make a decision without actually earning their sincere buy-in .
So, what is influence? Mr. Webster would put it as, “the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen .” With influence, dedicating time to win someone’s heart or earn mindshare is a prerequisite to the process of inspiring them to take action or make a particular decision. Influence is having a vision of the optimum outcome for a situation or organization and then, without using force or coercion, motivating people to work together toward making the vision a reality . Going back to its role in leadership, that is what good leadership is really about: creating change (towards a common goal) without directly forcing (not a command that must be obeyed) it to happen. Or to over-simplify the difference between Managers and Leaders: “Managers can command, Leaders can only influence.”
This is where we, as Consultants, come in. We work, and do our role, best if we are able to influence our clients for the good of their organization. Even if we like to, we are very rarely given the opportunity to issue a command. Thus, influence is our greatest and most valuable asset.
The key to influencing
A key is something that is only useful when in your possession—obviously. It is most useful when you decide to use it to open doors. And your decision to use it is entirely in your control. In studying what (for me) is the key to influencing, I used three important criteria:
1. It must be personally possessed. It can be gained.
2. It creates true and lasting impact, not superficial.
3. It is completely under your direct control. It is not subject to external powers, but is entirely yours.
Trust is what first comes to mind when we think of a key to influencing. Trust between the two parties—mostly by the “influencee” to the influencer. I have no doubt that influencing will not be successful without the trust factor. A certain and comfortable level of trust must be present for someone to be influenced. However, trust is not in the influencer’s control. Trust is earned, not given. Meaning, it is an external factor to the influencer and thus not completely under his or her direct control. Isn’t that always the case? We can’t force somebody to trust us—and when you force someone, does that still count as influencing?
From these criteria, I’ll present to you a thesis that personal integrity is the key to influencing. Take a pause at this point and let that sink in. Integrity is the key to influencing. Think about the people who greatly influenced you, about the leaders that shaped your mindset and character, you stuck with what they influenced you with—may it be ideas, practices, morality, technologies, etc.—because you respected their personal integrity. How quick do followers run away from a leader, when that leader did something immoral? Or acted entirely differently from what they preached? You probably did the same thing.
Action over words
“Who you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say,” says Ralph Waldo Emerson. What you do speak louder than what you say; even if semantics-wise what was communicated really made a lot of sense. Can we still influence even when we lacked integrity? Maybe. You might even fake it and still create a very strong influence. But that type of influence is on shaky foundation. Just one peek at the core that lacks integrity, then the influence is gone—along with that person.
If trust is what enables influencing, then integrity is the main root that keeps it stable and alive. Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. This is what our clients greatly need from us: the honesty to tell them the good and the bad, without sugar-coating it; the principle that we really do have the client’s best in mind—sometimes even at our loss. Our integrity is something that is entirely in our control, which can only be cultivated by us alone.
Integrity enables you to take a hit, to be on the disadvantaged end for now, because you know that you are in it for the long term. You want to work and collaborate with a client for years to come, not just a one-off. This is also what a well-meaning client would truly want, somebody they can partner with to produce something better than the sum of the parts. It’s only when you have the integrity will that long-term partnership happens, because no one wants to work with somebody they cannot always trust.
From a client’s perspective
Put yourself in the shoes of a client, or even just your shoes, and think about what you really hope and like to happen during conversations. You’d probably answer that you want the one you’re in conversation with to try to understand you first before recommending anything—that they would listen to understand, not just prepare a reply. It would probably tick you off if they instantly bombard you with suggestions about what you should do or should’ve done before really understanding where you’re coming from. Wait, what does this have to do with integrity?
If integrity is present, then the “seek first to understand, and then be understood” act is a natural response. Because you really want to put the client’s best in mind, you dig deep first into understanding them and not just preparing a response. While this certain act is a good start towards building a solid relational foundation, this instantaneously also creates a win-win scenario for both the client and you. The client will have the peace of mind and confidence caused by understanding that you don’t have a preconceived solution in mind, but rather a better understanding of his problem or what he wants to happen and a catered solution to that—not the other way around. You, on the other hand, will have a better understanding of what is expected of you—your success measure just got suddenly clearer. Don’t you think trust is more easily gained in this situation? Did your influence to the client just increased?
This paradigm could be as simple as: Integrity -> Trust -> Influence.
Because of your integrity, it is easier to trust you, and because of that you increased your influence.
Integrity is the key to influencing. Integrity is fully in your control, other people’s trust is not. It might not be the catalyst or the quickest way to make other people change their minds, but without it, one’s influence is only superficial.