JOHN MAXWELL DEFINES leading as influencing. President Eisenhower defined it as, “getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” While influence, or persuasion, remains a critical skill, polishing that skill requires some analysis. We must first learn to identify and then focus on what currently drives others; it is then that your influence is given a boost.
Identify What’s Important
Unfortunately, the use of a permanent and all-encompassing prime directive that guided Captain Kirk no longer exists. Situations change putting interests in a constant flux and combining both objective and emotional factors. However, not all factors carry the same weight. Since some factors are more important than others, what gets top billing will change as circumstances continue to shift.
Understanding current viewpoints and priorities are key to gaining influence. It enables leaders to highlight the benefits being sought while building common ground, rapport, and respect.
For example, why assume that contentious debate is the standard communication practice? Instead, identify the benefits of another’s perspective first, and then ask for clarification on details in order to build harmony. It’s important to note if questions come before agreement, a defensive response is less likely. That does not mean that getting onboard with another person’s idea means you neglect or surrender your position. It only shows that you fully seek to understand what is being said, before suggesting alternatives. It also helps builds reciprocity, or a quid pro quo situation, where ideas can be merged allowing both viewpoints to prevail.
In order to detect current goals, one must be able to analyze the top business issue at hand. In other words, what keeps you up at night?
Consider these questions to help identify the current priorities:
- Is the focal point internal or external to the organization?
- Is there a culture of risk taking, or risk avoidance?
- Is the focus on standardizing existing practices or improving them?
- Is attention focused on the near-term, the long-term or on the past?
- Is more attention given to growing with the current business model, or revising it to capture new trends and possibilities?
- Is the goal to be a state of the art industry leader, or follow proven paths?
- Is flexibility and nimbleness, or consistency preferred?
- Is creative or systems thinking more highly valued?
Boost Your Influence, Not Your Ego
An influential leader conceals traces of a personal ego and focuses, instead, on exploring options, evaluating alternatives and assessing risk without confrontation. They know that working with others, instead of working against them, produces optimal outcomes. This does not feed the ego, but it does produce results, acceptance, and commitment. While agreeing first, then analyzing positions runs counter to standard communication practices, it is also the formula for successful results.
Lao Tzu’s definition of great leaders remains valid: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”