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Influence Starts with “I”—Who Before What!

Influence Starts with “I”—Who Before What!

What is Influence? Is it getting others to do what I want? Is it persuading another to follow my recommendations? Whatever it is, we know leaders do it.

Leaders influence.

So, recently in an executive education course of about fifty women, I asked these leaders to define influence. Their definitions fell into two groups. Some talked about a person with influence. They defined an influencer (the “who” of influence), while others defined the process of influence (the “what” of influence). Here are the insights that these women shared:

An influencer is someone…

  • who achieves buy-in.
  • who has presence, passion and persistence.
  • who is very good at listening while respecting others, yet still setting clear direction.
  • who is relatable, reliable and approachable.
  • who is a great listener; is impactful, and able to remove barriers to allow you to grow and become your greatest self.
  • who is capable of making a connection and having contextual understanding.

As you see, these leaders defined influence by first defining the characteristics of people who influence. These qualities or character traits help us recognize and connect with influencers. I especially like the definition that tags “presence, passion and persistence” with the traits of influencers. I’m thinking of some of the greatest influencers I know– they had presence with others–often seeming larger than life, yet approachable. Their passion dripped from their very personhood. They persisted through some of the most difficult situations.

What we learn from these leaders is that if you want to be recognized as an influencer, you must have certain traits within that are evident to others.  

Yet, influence is also an ability—something you do.

These leaders defined influence as an ability to …

  • connect and motivate.
  • communicate openly and clearly a goal with supporting drive.
  • subtly infiltrate the hearts, minds and perspectives of others through education and inspiration.

According to this view, influence is a skill or an ability. I especially like the definition that says influence is about subtly infiltrating the hearts, minds and perspectives of others. To infiltrate is to permeate or penetrate. I think of influence as a permeating force in which leaders garner power with others and don’t wield power over others.

Additionally, though we know leaders who influence(d) for nefarious purposes, ultimately, we as individuals and our societies in general are most impacted by leaders who influence for the greater good.  That is, they influence on behalf of the greater good of the organizations, institutions and communities of which they are a part. 

That, my friend , is the heart of my book, “Influence Starts with I.” Influence originates inside of you and emanates out to others in your interactions with them.  Influence is the personal side of leadership, as well as the public side of leadership. Influence is about who you are inside and what you do from the inside out! 

Influence as both a verb and a noun.

 In my book, I unpack influence as both a verb and a noun.

 “Influence is something you do and something you possess.” I would submit, influence is something you must first possess then it’s what you do. Then you end up possessing more of it as you continue to influence! Never forget, each of us leads and influences from who we are. Who we are — our identity, inward traits, and purpose—comes through for others to see and to be shaped by.

Yet, influence “is action that you take to make an impact on others and the organization or community in which you work, live or serve. It is also the interpersonal and social capital you amass with others that enables you to affect people and environments.”

In this age of highly matrixed, global for-profit and nonprofit organizations addressing the complex issues of our societies, people at every level must learn to influence–to help shape outcomes for the good of all. We are too interconnected and interdependent for one person to force his or her will on others.

As a leader, to influence more powerfully, you will need to start with growing in your sense of who you are–and examine the character traits you exhibit that unify people, bring teams together, that lead to communal uplift. The who must always precede the what

Think about your own leadership. Are you influencing from the inside out? Are you defining the objectives and goals of your influence in terms of the whole?

Who you are will shape what you do.  Therefore nless you clarify who you are, what you do will not have as great an impact as it could!

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*I want to thank the women of my Cleveland Institute for Management Studies session for their marvelous insights and definitions that re-affirm the who of influence is just as important as the what of influence

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