It is only a week into the new decade and we’ve already read dozens of posts about conquering our goals and becoming our best selves in 2020. These tips and tricks are quite helpful, but there is something we’re equally as interested in at Studio/E this year: continuing to earn our influence, both individually and as a company.
Influence is the backbone of good leadership. As opposed to authority, which is leadership designated by a title or role, influence is affecting change without force; it’s empowering your team to carry out tasks with their own free will — tasks which ultimately contribute to your vision. Influence is not something for which you can earn a badge and then discontinue working toward. Rather, it is something that must be earned over and over again.
In his new book, Wise Guy: Lessons from a Life, Guy Kawasaki says, “Understand that you are, in the words of Steve Jobs, ‘denting the universe’ if you are a teacher, coach, pastor, priest, rabbi, or hold a position that influences people. You may affect only one person at a time and only a few over your lifetime, but every dent counts. Make no mistake: you are doing God’s work.”
Influence is important; God’s work important. And chances are, if you’re reading this article, you are a person of some kind of influence. Given that it is something one must earn over and over again, we don’t claim to know the secret. We have learned, however, after years in leadership, some ways to continuously earn your influence. For the purposes of this post, we are going to look into how to gain influence on an individual level, but many of the themes carry over to what organizations can do as well.
Get clear on your purpose
Your purpose should be so ingrained into everything you do, both at work and at home, that others can guess what it is that drives your every move. Designer and author of the book Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, Ingrid Fetell Lee says her purpose is finding and creating joy. This is evident in nearly everything she does, from her blog posts, which help others find joy in the mundane, to her Instagram feed, which features her self-explanatory hashtag, #joyspotting. (Here’s a video of Ingrid discussing her purpose with Studio/E co-founder Nate Garvis.) Similarly, Academy Award-winning filmmaker and National Geographic photographer Jimmy Chin says his purpose is to create empathy. With all of his projects, he aims to tell stories that are empathy machines, inspiring others to be more compassionate and empathetic. (Hear Jimmy discuss his purpose here.) Ingrid and Jimmy live and breathe their purposes, which influences those around them. When you’re not only clear on your purpose, but you live into it day after day like these two, you earn influence by nature of being true to yourself and what matters to you.
Be someone people can trust. Be the same person when nobody is around (i.e. have integrity); say what you mean and mean what you say. The easiest way to gain trust, according to this article on Inc.com, is to “be open and honest, no matter what. State your opinions, disclose your apprehensions, and don’t keep secrets.” (Other tips this post offers for earning your influence are to be consistent; choose assertion over aggression; be flexible and personal; focus on actions; and listen.) If you aren’t trustworthy, even if you have a lot of other great attributes, you will not remain influential. Peoples’ confidence in you will erode any time you do something to betray their trust, and it takes far less time to break trust than to gain it. Make sure trust is the guiding light of everything you do.
Principles are a series of standards upon which you base your behaviors and actions in order to remain true to yourself and what you believe. When every decision you make is filtered through the principles which guide you, you will make better decisions. (For a comprehensive read on principles as they relate to making better decisions, check out this post.) People are more apt to be influenced by those who lead with principles, so make sure to identify what your principles are and then do everything you can to be a living and breathing example of them.
Admit when you don’t know
Three of the most powerful words one can say, specifically when in a position of influence, are “I don’t know.” Nobody knows everything, but we don’t often hear someone of great influence say those words. Admitting you don’t know something is an invitation for someone on your team to engage with you. It’s also an opportunity to grow, and if you’re not growing, you’re dying. “Knowledge is important,” says business advisor Gaurav Gupta. “But overestimating the importance of having all the answers (or the belief that you already possess them) can quiet your curiosity to explore all the facets of a topic with a fresh, learning-focused mindset.” Humility, like that expressed by admitting you don’t know something, can go a really long way. Fast Company co-founder says, “humility in the service of ambition is the most effective and sustainable mindset for leaders who aspire to do big things in a world filled with huge unknowns.” If your aim is to create a more prosperous future, to navigate the unknown, or to effectively lead others, admit when you don’t know something. The benefits far outweigh the so-called risks.
Do good work
Obvious? Yes. Commonplace? Not necessarily. When you show up and do good work day in and day out, you can’t help but earn influence. If you’re the founder of a company, your good work will show up in everything your team does. Your motivation, inspiration, and support for your team will have a trickle-down effect, and they will, in turn, do better work. If you’re the founder’s assistant, your good work shows up when you pay attention to details that nobody else has the patience or aptitude for. Your good work results in on-time meetings and efficient use of the founder’s time. Good work creates trust, trust creates influence, and influence creates a more prosperous future.
Ingrid Fetell Lee found that saying no actually helped her find and create joy (her purpose). Until she began to say no, she overcommitted, couldn’t make decisions, and lost touch with her own purpose. But once she began to say no, she was able to build healthier relationships, keep her life and priorities in alignment, and even find some free time. Like most of these points, saying no ties back to being clear on your purpose. If you find something isn’t aligned with your purpose, you should feel empowered to say no to it. Creating boundaries for yourself like this will help you do better work — plus it’s admirable. And as Ingrid says: a no to something you don’t want is a yes to something you do.
Enroll your team
From the same Inc article above: “Influence is a two-way street. The more you believe in the people around you and incorporate their ideas into your vision, the more they’ll believe in your ideas and incorporate them into their work habits.” Enrollment can happen in a number of ways, but the simplest way to enroll your team is to create space for them. Invite them to contribute to your ideas; listen to their opinions; care about what they have to say. And, most importantly, be open to what is different about them. These differences are what make those around you so valuable.
Earning influence requires checking in with yourself over and over again. Are you aligned with your purpose and do your actions reflect it? Can people trust you? Do you say no to the things you need to? Have you enrolled your team into your vision?
We’ll leave you with another quote from Guy Kawasaki’s new book: “Be a hard-ass if you are a teacher, manager, coach, or someone who influences people. You’re not doing anyone a favor by lowering your standards and expectations in an effort to be kind, gentle, or popular. The future cost of short-term kindness is great.”
Earning your influence is one thing, and the tips above should help you achieve it. But using your influence is another game altogether. Do not take your role lightly — your influence matters.
Interested in more ways to earn your influence? Learn how to position and package your ideas, create great business models, enroll others, and more in our 2020 workshop series. Find our whole 2020 calendar here.