I am a senior analyst at an insurance company. I want to start building my leadership influence.
I know my position is not at manager level yet, but I think leadership can happen at all levels. I am also very young compared to my colleagues who are at the same level in the company. I used to think influence meant popularity (e.g., numbers of likes and comments on my LinkedIn posts), but I am starting to feel that this is not true.
I read in a book that leadership influence means how many people would follow a leader and change their behaviors after interaction with the leader. Do you agree? Do you have any advice on how I can begin developing influence at my position?
Dear Future Influencer,
This is a great question, and the topic could be a whole book. There are, in fact, plenty of books on the topic, most of which focus on communication skills. So I will try to hit some highlights, and maybe share a perspective you might not get elsewhere.
I agree that leadership can happen at all levels, starting with the self. I think the definition you share sounds right. Influence isn’t the same as popularity, and it is definitely not something that can be measured by interaction with others on social media.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary says influence is “the power to change or affect someone or something—especially the power to cause changes without directly forcing those changes to happen. Influence can also refer to a person or thing that affects someone or something in an important way.”
To boil it down, I think it means being able to get people to support you and your ideas or do stuff you need them to do, especially if it is inconvenient or isn’t really their job.
You might start by zooming in on three areas:
1. You: Who are you, and how do you add value to any situation? Get clarity on your own personality and core needs. Understanding others is much easier when you understand yourself because you can figure out how you are different from others, why it matters, and what you can do about it.
A great way to discover more about yourself is with our content on Essential Motivators. Watch this webinar to get going: Developing a Deeper Understanding of Yourself and Others. You will also want to understand what combination of traits, experience, and skills add up to being your superpowers. What are you naturally great at and what do you love to do that might be useful to others? You can use this knowledge to get involved with projects or committees in your organization that will help you find ways to contribute while vastly increasing your network.
2. Your Dreams: What do you dream of accomplishing (not job title or salary)? What kind of culture do you want to create around you? What kind of impact do you want to make in the world? What kinds of changes do you want to see in your industry? What is your vision for yourself, your team, your company? Do you know your values well enough to use them to make decisions? Do you have a personal mission?
All of these dimensions will help you begin to build a personal brand. All of these will provide you with a clear drive that people will recognize and be attracted to—because it is compelling to support others who are up to fun and interesting things. It’s great to be goal-oriented, but you want to aim for something more than just a title or salary band. As you aspire to leadership, ask yourself what will make you a leader others choose to follow.
3. Relationships: Connections on social media are rarely real relationships. Having a relationship with someone means that person knows who you are and will include you if they believe you have something useful to add to a project. You’ve heard the complaint about successful people, that “It is always who you know.” Well, it is true—maybe unfair, but true—because people can’t help you if they don’t know you. And they won’t know you unless you make sure they do.
The best way to increase the number of people you have relationships with is to create a Relationship Map:
- Identify the people you need to know—they might be senior to you, peers, or newbies. You never know what assistants might be able to help you if they feel inclined.
- Analyze each person. What are their goals? How might they benefit from knowing you?
- Make a plan to form a connection with each person. And I don’t mean on social media. If a person is very senior to you, maybe ask for a short meeting to interview them about their job—what they love about it, what skills it requires, what advice they have for you. People love to give advice!
If you find someone super interesting, ask them to mentor you. With others, try to find a common interest. This is where social media may come in handy. Talk about leadership books or baking. Get together for coffee or cocktails, or do something you both enjoy—hiking, taking your dogs to the dog park.
You are well on your way, Future Influencer. The fact that you are reading books on leadership is already a great start. Warren Bennis wrote “Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It’s precisely that simple, and it’s also that difficult.” You might want to put his book On Becoming a Leader on your list.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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