Thursday, 7 June 2012


So what is influence? And is influence important?

To me, influence is very important. This comes from my early influences (ha - there's that word again!): I was brought up in a family where we all did lots of voluntary work, often accomplished by trading favours.

Having strong, well-nourished networks was something that my parents did as naturally as breathing, and so myself and my siblings followed the same route. We naturally used our networks to get things done, and to help both ourselves and others acheive goals.

In saying that, we tended to do favours for others first, without a return expectation: paying it forward like the movie. The favour we might eventually need would probably come from someone else, and would probably also be for the benefit of yet another person or organisation. All that voluntary work that we did - and still do - tended to mean there was a club in need of some funds, a group needing some equipment, some PR needing to be done or raffle tickets to be sold.

In leadership, influence is defined as the "effect a person’s actions have on the attitudes, values, beliefs, or actions of others" (Daft & Pirola-Merlo, 2009, p. 381). It sounds something like power, doesn't it. However, power is the capacity to cause a change, while influence is the degree of actual change that happens.

You can have strong influence without having a lot of power; certainly without having the power of a certain position. Your influence can be magnified hugely by your networks, with goodwill, and though how you model doing things for others. If nothing is ever a problem for you, and you meet others needs as they need them to be met, those around you are likely to pull out all the stops for you when you need it.

Additionally, we tend to give more generously when someone is asking a favour on behalf of someone else, in the service of something that doesn't benefit them directly. We reward altruism with our trust, and see the person asking as being trustworthy.

We can lose influence very quickly by abusing that trust though undisclosed direct benefits from a favour, by asking for something in return before we give, by complaining when we are asked for help (we eventually won't get asked), by needing prodding, reminding and coaxing before we deliver, by needing continual accolades, or by belittling others who help or undoing all they have done before we will start. I am sure you will all know people to avoid, as they cost more in management problems than they provide in benefits.

In business, government and non-profit organisations, influence is very important for leaders. It can be used by leaders in a much more structured way than in peer relationships. Daft & Pirola-Merlo (2009, p. 394) lists seven tactics that a leader can use to influence others:
  1. Use rational persuasion This frequently used influence tactic uses facts, data, and logical arguments to persuade others that a proposed idea or request is the best way to complete a task or accomplish a desired goal.
  2. Make people like you People would rather say yes to someone they like than to someone they don’t like. When a leader shows concern for others, demonstrates trust and respect, and treats people fairly, people are more likely to want to help and support the leader.
  3. Rely on the rule of reciprocity Leaders gain power by having something that others value. A primary way to turn that power into influence is to share what you have-whether it be time, resources, services, or emotional support. Leaders who do favours for others can expect favours in return.
  4. Develop allies Reciprocity also plays an important role in developing networks of allies, people who can help the leader accomplish goals. A leader’s network of contacts can be expanded by reaching out to establish contact with additional people. Some leaders expand their alliances through the hiring, transfer, and promotion process.
  5. Ask for what you want Another way to have influence is to make a direct appeal by being clear about what you want and asking for it. Political activity is effective only when the leader’s vision, goals, and desired changes are made explicit so the organisation can respond.
  6. Remember the principle of scarcity This principle means that people usually want more of what they can’t have. When things are available, they become more desirable. Leaders can learn to frame their requests or offers in such a way as to highlight the unique benefits and exclusive information being provided.
  7. Extend formal authority with expertise and credibility The final principle for asserting authority is the leader’s legitimate authority in the organisation. Research has found that the key to successful use of formal authority is to be knowledgeable, credible, and trustworthy. Effective leaders keep the previous influence principles in mind, realising that influence depends primarily on personal rather than position power.

Just remember, whether you are influencing paid or volunteer workers, using your influence works best when it is not "all about you".

Reference: Daft, Richard L. & Pirola-Merlo, Andrew (2009). The Leadership Experience (Asia-Pacific Edition 1). Australia: Cengage


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