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Whether you are leading, following or collaborating, chances are you need to get your opinions and ideas recognized by the people around you to be successful. Influence is the ability to impact the ideas, opinions and actions of others—and it has become a key skill for a new generation of professionals around the world.
Today’s workplace involves unprecedented levels of change and complexity. Emerging leaders are expected to manage complicated, diverse and often dispersed teams. People at all levels of an organization have to span boundaries where differences in culture, gender, age, geography and hierarchy create unique challenges.
On top of that, as the Corporate Leadership Council (CLC) points out in this webinar, organizations are looking outside their country of headquarters to expand their operations and markets globally. To do that successfully, CLC says, companies need leaders who can get things done in a global context and navigate the complicated transition that comes with leading effectively on an international stage. This often includes a loss of direct authority, an increase in stakeholders and responsibilities and a new need for intercultural skills.
These growing, global complexities make it essential for professionals to know how to influence the people they work with, near and far. But they also make it a lot trickier.
The Influence Gap
Influence, according to a Corporate Leadership Council survey, is “the fundamental competency that leaders must have to effectively assume global roles.”
While influence is important for single-country market leaders, the 2011 Corporate Leadership Council research found that it was the number one differentiator in someone becoming what it calls a “Great Global Leader” (which they defined based on data measuring leaders’ impact in a number of different areas).
In fact, of 21 leadership competencies—including vision, creativity, risk-taking and resource allocation—the Corporate Leadership Council identified influence not only as the most important skill for leaders in a global context, but also the skill at which global leaders are the least effective.
Similarly, a Center for Creative Leadership study named boundary-spanning leadership—which calls for effective influence skills—as the number one challenge today for senior executives. According to the CCL research, 99 percent of senior executives said it was important to work across boundaries, but only 7 percent of them described themselves as being “very effective” at it.
The bottom line, according to all of this data: Even though influence is one of the most important skills for global managers to have to work across boundaries and lead effectively, many don’t do it very well.
So, How Can You Bridge That Gap?
Effective influence increases trust, support and ownership for your priorities. Ineffective influence can promote doubt, intimidation and resentment. Influence strategies can range from reliance on position and power to emphasis on encouragement and collaboration.
In 2009 and 2010, Discovery Learning, Inc. and Innovative Pathways did extensive research to identify and measure the different influence styles people use. Our findings helped us identify five dominant influence styles and resulted in the development of the Influence Style Indicator®, an assessment tool designed to understand and measure an individual’s preferred influence style or styles.
Based on this influence data, here are a few things you can do to boost your influential impact, especially if you find yourself leading in a multinational setting.
Understand your style
You have an idea and need buy-in from your colleagues. Do you approach them ready to bargain? Do you drive home your point with data and logic? Do you make it clear what you want and put on the pressure? Do you focus first on cultivating a solid relationship with stakeholders? Do you try to find common ground?
Everyone has distinctive influence styles. You may instinctively understand and appreciate some of these styles and view others as ineffective, unclear and frustrating. Knowing the characteristics and capabilities of your influencing style is essential to developing your leadership effectiveness and maximizing your impact.
Adapt to your audience
People around the globe have diverse influence styles and will respond to yours in different ways.
For instance, high-level executives tend to prefer an inspiring approach about 20 percent more often than middle-level managers. Younger people prefer to rationalize more than older people do. Women tend to assert themselves almost as much as men. People in the banking industry tend to lean on data and logic more than people who work for non-profits. North American managers tend to negotiate 40 percent less than their counterparts in Southeast Asia.
People approach and respond to influence differently depending on their organizational level, age, gender, industry and nationality. So your influence style might work better on your peer than on your boss or might be less effective in a global setting. Understanding and being able to adapt your influence style to diverse teams and situations is key to becoming an effective leader.
‘Bridge’ the gap
When in doubt, build a bridge to get your point across.
Universally, the influence style with the strongest and most consistent preference is Bridging. Most managers around the world tend to rely, at least in part, on engaging and connecting with the people whose buy-in they need. So, regardless of your age, seniority, nationality, gender or line of work, if your bridging skills aren’t at least moderate, you should consider developing them to maximize your influencing effectiveness.
Check out the Influence Style Indicator® to learn more about how you prefer to impact the people around you in today’s rapidly changing workplace. Understand and capitalize on your influence style—and become a more effective leader.