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Few would dispute that leadership and influence are closely linked. But are they the same thing? And can you have one without the other?
Personally, I think there is a difference between the two that’s important to understand, particularly for those of us in leadership positions who believe that being a person of influence is important to the role. A person can be influential without a title. It’s also possible to hold a title with little influence. The leaders job is to inspire others to exert their own influence – regardless of their position or title.
The ability to effect change and motivate action is actually not something solely dependent on influence. Collecting loyal followers can be the result of charisma, personality of charm. However, I’m not sure it’s possible to build a team of people who are inspired to contribute their time, energy, talents and expertise towards a common goal without exerting influence.
So what does it take to be the type of leader that can inspire others towards greatness? Here are a few ideas:
- Barbara Safani of Career Solvers says that “influencers lead ideas; leaders lead people”. Influencers are able to come up with unique ideas and solutions – a quality that does not require leadership. Leaders are tasked with the job of mobilizing the solution and turning those ideas into reality.
- Recognize the difference between influence and control. The truth is, none of us can actually control anyone – except ourselves. Control is an illusion. Influence is real. Great leaders avoid tactics that make them feel in control but are, in reality, bullying and manipulative. Rather, they influence change by acting in a way that garners respect, looking for opportunities to take initiative and action, casting a compelling vision, and taking care to notice and appreciate the efforts of those around them.
- Keep your commitments. Generally, we associate people of influence with those we know we can count on to follow through on what they promise. If those around you can’t rely on your word, they won’t trust you. And without trust, it’s impossible to exert influence.
- Recognize how deeply our words matter. Words are powerful. A few careless words have the ability to shape, or misshape, reality for the people around us. As leaders, the words we choose can empower others to shine or diminish them to the point that they cease to contribute in any meaningful way.
- Model the culture you want to create. Influencing a culture where people are encouraged to share ideas, knowledge and expertise requires leaders to model open communication and a positive attitude that makes it ok to fail. It requires leaders to act with integrity, listen carefully, pay attention and be generous with praise.
I think we can agree that not all influencers are leaders. However, it’s the leader’s role to allow and encourage others to exert influence when necessary and appropriate. Team members that possess experience or talent in key areas should be allowed to hold a significant amount of sway over behavior and decisions pertaining to their area of expertise. Creating the type of environment that allows each team member to exert influence in the right way and at the right times is its own kind influence.
Great leaders know how to encourage others to shine in a way that affects positive outcomes. In other words, great leaders know how to influence influence.