How to Build Influence As A Leader


Authority versus influence is a topic much discussed in the world of leadership and management. We have written frequently about the importance and benefits of committed teams gained from using influence rather than authority.  Well, recently a friend asked me how you can tell which one you are using.  At first I looked at him confused thinking “Umm…you should know buddy!” but then I realized it is actually a very valid question.  As a leader, it is often difficult to judge our own actions and impossible to know how other people are judging our behaviors and intent.  It is easy to believe you are exercising influence when others would label your actions as authority or even micromanagement. Here are a few quick ways to test your own leader actions or those of leaders around you:






  • Task completion is driven by instructions, processes, and steps directed by management

  • Management defines the goal and allows room for creativity, innovation, and new ideas to be presented

  • Leadership exerts a great amount of effort to drive goal achievement or manage change

  • Goals are met consistently and change happens quickly and smoothly

  • Focus of the team is on doing what the boss tells them and staying out of trouble

  • Focus of the team is on finding the best solutions for the business, stakeholders, and shareholders

  • Employees ask “why” tasks are necessary

  • Employees ask for feedback as it relates to their ability to achieve the goal

Most would agree that leading with influence produces a better end result for the business, consumers, employees, and leaders of the team.  Unfortunately, you cannot wake up one day and decide to be influential.  Unlike authority, influence is not given to you in a title or promotion. Influence stretches past hierarchical structure and is earned through a careful series of behaviors and actions. We call them the 4 elements of influence, and together they create a force far more powerful than authority.

#1 Trust.  Trust is a small word with big implications. Think for a second about how trust might feed into influence. If people believe you have their best interest at heart, they see your actions in a different manner than if they believe they are simply doing your bidding. This also means that they respond to your requests and actions differently too.

#2 Consistency. Consistency has two main interpretations- to act the same way over and over in a predictable fashion- and to behave in a way that matches your beliefs and vision.   To be influential means to exhibit both- act in a way that mirrors your vision and show predictable responses.  This does not imply that you cannot have a bad day, make a mistake, or change your mind about something, but it does imply that those behaviors would be out of the norm, that you would recognize it, and that you would take steps to discuss it with your team when it happens.

#3 Credibility. Building credibility happens when people believe you can help them grow and get better.  You do not have to have the same skills sets as they do, you do not have to have done their job before them, you simply have to provide a fresh perspective, ask key questions, and be focused on their growth. In fact, when we act like we have all the answers or ‘know it all’ we lose credibility and become less influential than if we just ask questions and lead from a place of getting to the best answer..not what is perceived as the ‘right’ answer.

#4 Investment. Investing in people is more about the quality of time spent than it is quantity.  When you invest in someone on your team, you are showing them that you care about more than just a member of the team, but as a person who has value above and beyond the task at hand.  You can also demonstrate investment by providing timely feedback about their performance, allowing them room to make mistakes, and by seeking feedback from them on ways you can continue to develop as a leader.

These four elements are key in building a level of influence on your team or throughout your company. Notice none of them require a certain title, promotion, or level of authority over others.  They just require some basic principles of treating others with their best interest in mind and leading in a way that causes collaboration, commitment, and engagement from those around you.

Leading Through Influence

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