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February 3, 2016

Do you have what it takes to be an influential leader?


Influential leader on top of a hill

If you’re a professional hermit and you never have to deal with anyone else — no coworkers, no direct reports, no bosses, no vendors and no customers — you can skip this post. Otherwise, your ability to influence others is critical.

This is true especially of CEOs and others in executive roles.

Researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership found that influence — the ability to lead across multiple constituencies and across boundaries — is the No. 1 challenge for C-suite executives. The Corporate Leadership Council ranked 21 competencies for effective leaders around the world and found that influence was the most important skill for effective leaders.

Leading means influencing others. Though influence has always been important, in the 21st century workplace it’s the most important leadership skill.

Why? First, the environment we work in is more complex than ever, and it’s changing faster. We often have less time to make decisions. We must often trust others to make the right decisions, without us looking over their shoulders.

Our organizations are flatter; matrices are replacing hierarchies as companies re-organize themselves to compete more effectively. More of our work involves teams, with more collaboration across boundaries. Even in fields that might be perceived as slow moving or “traditional,” such as government and banking, effective leadership often means being able to coordinate efforts across multiple independent agencies or companies.

In other words, effective leaders must be able to influence others.


What is influence?

Influence is “the interpersonal behaviors we use to have a positive impact on another party’s choices.”

But what does it really mean to be influential? It means you’re involved in decisions. That you can access information beyond your immediate area of management control. That you’re included in special events at work, and also outside work (where informal networks and new relationships develop). You’re targeted for promotion and development. And you’re asked to coach or mentor others.

But influence isn’t a single, monolithic skill. There are many ways to influence people, and all people have preferences in how they influence — their influence style. That influence style (especially if unconscious) has a major impact on how effective leaders are in different situations.

Different circumstances often call for different influence styles. Negotiating a labor contract with a union, for example, calls for a different approach than pulling together a team to respond to a crisis or developing a new product or service.


Assessing your influence style

DLI’s Influence Style Indicator assessment allows individuals to understand their own influence preferences. Understanding your own preferences, and alternative approaches to influence, can dramatically improve your influential leadership skills.
Here are the five major influence styles, along with some of the key influencing tactics used in each style. Think about when you’ve seen or heard some of these tactics. When have you used them yourself?

Asserting style: If you’ve ever heard someone say something like “The policy requires that …” or “I am 100% certain …” then you’ve seen the asserting style in action. Asserting influence tactics include:

  • Advocating by debate.
  • Insisting your ideas be heard.
  • Challenging the ideas of others.

Inspiring style: Inspiring influence style seeks to convince others by, well, inspiring them. You might hear someone say “Just think of what this can mean to the future of …” and “You’re the best I’ve ever seen at this. Would you be willing to …” Inspiring tactics include:

  • Presenting a sense of shared purpose.
  • Putting forth exciting possibilities.

Bridging style: Leaders use bridging when they want establish a sense of mutual interest or rapport. You might hear phrases like “I think I understand your dilemma so can you help me understand why …” or “I had this same issue last year and let me tell you how …” Bridging tactics include:

  • Connecting with others.
  • Building relationships and coalitions.

Negotiating style: When using negotiating style, you’ll hear leaders say things such as “Let’s agree to discuss this later when everybody is calmer” and “If you will … then I can …” Negotiating tactics include:

  • Agreeing to compromises, concessions and trade offs to satisfy your greater interest.
  • Exchanging favors to get things done.

Rationalizing style: When leaders use the rationalizing style of influence, they use logic and data to persuade. You’d hear leaders say things like “The experts say …” or “Our analysis shows that …” Key rationalizing style tactics include:

  • Using expert views and historical data to build a position.
  • Suggesting logical solutions to problems.
  • Citing relevant facts and data.

Influential leaders choose their styles

Your influence style, and the behaviors that go along with them, are not fixed. You may prefer one style, but most people have some ability to shift from to different styles depending on circumstances.
Skillful leaders, leaders who are influential, take this one step further. They recognize that in different situations, different influence styles are more effective. They also recognize the influence styles used by those around them, whether it’s someone they’re facing across the negotiating table or their own direct reports.

Being aware of influence style preferences, when each style is best used and who is using what style makes leaders much more influential. That, in turn, enables them to deliver results for their organizations.

Want to learn more about how an awareness of influence styles makes leaders more effective? Sign-up for a free online webinar with Dr. Chris Musselwhite, the developer of Discovery Learning’s Influence Style Indicator Assessment.

Dr. Musselwhite has worked in organizational and leadership development for over 30 years and has developed several widely used assessments and simulations. His work is based on extensive research and assessment data from thousands of individuals.]


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