While becoming a strong, effective and truly influential leader takes time and intentional personal growth, it all starts with understanding the basics of leadership.
Leadership is all about developing relationships. Leadership at its core, is nothing more than building an influential relationship with another person. Therefore, the true measure of leadership is influence. The question becomes, how large is your sphere of influence and how strong is your influence with each person in that ‘sphere’?
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There are three steps which are a great place to start in the quest to becoming more influential. These three steps relate to the three questions each of us ask ourselves as we enter any relationship. (While these principles apply in all relationships, in our discussion here we’ll focus on work relationships.) The three questions we ask ourselves about the other person are: Do they care about me? Can they help me? and Can I trust them?
As simple as it sounds, the 3 steps to becoming more influential come down to answering those questions in the positive…through our actions!
We Must Care About the People We Hope to Influence
We’ve all heard the old saying, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” I’ve certainly found it to be true. People want to know that their leader truly cares about them as a person. And this is truer today than ever.
Until they know you care (or determine you don’t) they will hold back. And if they decide you don’t really care about them, then they aren’t going to care about you…or anything you say or ask them to do. You won’t have any influence with them.
People can innately tell if you really care about them or not. It shows in everything we do, everything we say, and how we react in different situations. People are always watching and listening to determine (and reconfirm) if we actually care about them or not.
Caring about people isn’t something we can fake. We have to truly care about each person we are leading. When we care more about our people than the work they produce, then we find out we rarely need to focus on their productivity. That’s because they are happy to meet and exceed the expectations of a leader that cares about them
Help Your People Succeed
The second question people ask themselves before they willingly follow a leader is, “Can they help me?” What’s so interesting to me about this question is how often we as leaders mistakenly assume the ‘help’ the person wants. We often assume it’s to be told – in great detail – how to do their job. (Worse, yet, we often tell them how we would do their job, not what would work best for them.) That is rarely the help they are wanting.
They want our help in being successful in their career (or at least in their current job). That is often more about removing obstacles, providing resources, information or authority, or giving them the time and training to get better at what they do. Helping our people be successful is much more than telling them what to do. And it takes more time and energy…and it takes intention and commitment from us.
I love that word: trustworthy. Being worthy of another person’s trust is a powerful thing. This answers the third question people have as they enter and develop relationships: “Can I trust this person?” Is this person worthy of my trust?
In many ways trust is the foundation of leadership. If people don’t believe they can trust you, they will not follow you and you won’t be an influential person in their life. You may be their ‘boss’ and have positional control over them. But you won’t have their buy-in, and you won’t get their best work.
When I get the opportunity to work with a company’s leadership team, a phrase I love introducing early is, ‘trust is like change in your pocket.’ When you have change in your pocket, you can make a mistake and be forgiven. But when you’re out of change, you’re out of opportunities to be forgiven. So, your goal as a leader is to build up (earn) change in your pocket.
So how do we earn another person’s trust?
Competence: As the person making decisions and being responsible for the team, your people expect you to be competent. Showing you are competent builds trust and you earn more ‘change’.
Character: Having integrity and doing what you say you’re going to do is important in building trust. The pillars of character are consistency, honestly, authenticity, and discipline.
Connection: The best way to connect with people is on common ground. So, it’s valuable for us as leaders to find the common ground with our people. The more we have in common the easier it is for them to trust us because we’re ‘just like them’. Or, at least, we have common interests and goals.
Put Them First: When our people know we ‘have their backs’ and know we are focused on their success we build tremendous trust and earn a lot of ‘change in our pocket.’ As we talk and act like we’re putting them first, they will naturally work harder to make sure they don’t let us down.
I’m not saying that all of this is easy. It does take time. More importantly it takes intention and commitment. Yet, when you focus on these three steps, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much more influence you have as a leader and how much it will improve the performance of your team.