You’re an influencer: Hone this vital skill

Posted on Written by Mary Elston
Mary Elston

I was tracking my online purchase like an excited kid. When it was delivered, a goofy grin spread across my face. There it was, my new tablet computer. You know how it is — new gadget, new features, new stuff!

After spending a few minutes setting it up I was downloading e-books and enjoying the freedom of a lightweight, highly portable connection to the Internet and outer universe.

With all of the iPad and other tablet choices on the market, how did I decide which to buy? I was unintentionally influenced by my eldest son. He recently bought a tablet for easygoing Internet surfing while sitting at home on his couch. His product requirements were similar to mine, including a battery life that was crazy great.

Although not every purchase I make is influenced by someone (or is it?) it got me thinking: Why was my son’s influence significant on this one? A few reasons came to mind: trust, similar usage goals, facts in the form of tablet specs matching my needs and an open discussion about options to consider.

Now transfer and expand the influence dynamic to how you, as a manager, intentionally inspire your employees. Because influence is the ability to affect the behavior of others in a particular direction, this makes your capacity to influence a crucial skill for getting things done with your boss, peers and subordinates.

This also means it’s essential to realize and periodically reassess where you’re exerting influence, where it’s effective and where it’s missing the mark. Why? We’re all being influenced or influencing others numerous times each day. Or are we being persuaded? Often it’s both.

Influence affects the actions or decisions of others because of relationships we have with them. Persuasion involves facts and figures logically ranked or rated, with one option shown as better than an alternative (such as a tablet with a 10-inch screen, versus an 8-inch).

With influential energy racing all around us, what makes some managers better at influencing their employees than others? An even bigger consideration: What about those times when you’re influencing your team and don’t realize you’re doing it? Although there are scores of factors affecting your ability to influence, there are five that I consistently and successfully use, as do many of my management and leadership colleagues. Let’s look at these important influencing elements now.

Influence factors you’ll want to consciously apply and grow with your group are: motivate, persuade, discuss, support and involve.

• Motivate: Managers who motivate and inspire employees are influencing their group’s desire to excel and achieve goals. Inspirational management means providing an enthusiastic vision and stretching perspective as to what greater objective can be reached when collective skills and efforts are applied.

It’s the coach who gives his team the “go-get-‘em” speech before the game, the CEO who tells employees about the exceptional market opportunity they are going to pursue and win, the manager who tells his group they’ve been selected to work on an exciting new project.

Sound easy? There’s much more. Keep in mind that for inspiration to be genuine, it comes with prerequisites. Leaders who inspire and motivate have shared values with employees, an upbeat yet realistic attitude and the vision I mentioned earlier. Egos are checked at the door. Your managerial skills, knowledge and track record contribute to your right to be in charge and are part of why employees trust you and are motivated by you. This, in turn, allows you to influence performance and gain agreement to follow your strategy.

• Persuade: Here’s where “just the facts, ma’am” steps into the influence equation. Factual evidence that a promised outcome will occur provides persuasion for selecting an option. When should you persuade with facts instead of influencing through a relationship? You know what I’m going to say: It depends.

It’s more convincing when persuasive, evidential facts are provided that logically back up trust placed in an influential connection. Managers who persuade with facts further legitimize decisions they are making and help employees buy into those decisions. Persuasion is also often tied to the factual prize on the other side of the option, such as product benefits — “50-percent faster computing” — or rewards — “earn a 20-percent bonus.”

• Discuss: A frequent complaint from employees who work for a manager who does not positively influence them is: “He doesn’t care about what we think.” Building influence includes engaging your team, discussing challenges and inviting ideas and input.

If you’re doing most of the talking, others aren’t talking and you aren’t listening. What’s the best way to encourage workers to speak up? Ask open-ended questions (“What approach would you like to take?”) as opposed to questions requiring only a yes or no response.

When you discuss alternatives with employees, you show that you respect their intelligence. That helps develop trust and camaraderie. It does not mean that you have to take their advice every time, but it does show that you’re open-minded and will consider it. Encourage input — make brainstorming the norm.

• Support: Everyone wants to make a difference and create a valued contribution. To do this, workers need to know they’ll be supported, enabled and empowered with access to critical resources, including equipment, budget dollars and decision-making authority. A manager who consistently provides support to employees incorporates yet another means for building trust and commitment. With this trust comes an increasing ability to influence your group’s actions and performance.

Support also means you’ll walk the talk. Don’t be the boss who tells everyone they have to stay late to finish a project and then cuts out early for a ballgame. Set an example: Support and influence your group by showing them you’ve got their back.

• Involve: Managers need to involve themselves in their team’s efforts and ongoing success. This includes helping them achieve goals by staying in touch with their progress, offering assistance when needed and being accessible. Influential involvement provides a strategic balance between the supervisor who is never around and the boss who is around too much. Set up well-timed status updates with your team that allow you to give encouragement, offer help and let workers proudly share progress. They’ll appreciate that you’re involved and care about their hard work.

As a manager, the way you motivate, persuade, discuss, support and stay involved with your employees contributes to the intentional and unintentional influence you have over them and the goals you collectively attain. Although my son inadvertently influenced my decision in a helpful way as to what tablet I decided to buy, you as a manager must be actively aware of how you’re influencing decisions your employees make and actions they take.

Your management attitude, approach and example provide the mirror upon which your team will reflect when gauging and self-directing their own behavior. Who have you influenced today? Bring out the best in your employees by exerting positive managerial influence to ignite exceptional performance and further expand the upbeat effect you have on all those around you.

Mary Elston has spent more than 20 years in management in the transportation, consulting and technology industries. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of the book, “Master Your Middle Management Universe, How to Succeed with Moga Moga Management Using 3 Easy Steps.” Contact her at mary@masteryoursuccess.com.

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue.

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