There are so many concerns we have about being a leader and influencing in all directions…

The problem is that these concerns can stop us from making a start, so sometimes we just need to get out of our own way.  Over the years we’ve heard all sorts of concerns and fears from leaders, including:• How do I tell someone they’re not performing well?

• Do I really have to tell people what to do?
• I can’t tell people off
• I can’t tell my boss what to do
• I can’t cope with people crying or getting offended by my feedback – why do they do that?!
• I just don’t know what it means to be a great leader
• I don’t think I’m leadership material
• Why would my peers/boss/suppliers listen to me, I’m not their boss?

With so many books, lectures, debates and assessments of leaders (you can spend decades studying all that has been said about great leadership), it’s clear that one core underlying theme is attitude and belief. What beliefs do you have about other people you work with? What’s your attitude towards your colleagues and your work as a whole? What beliefs do you have about your own leadership potential or capability?

All of us find ourselves thinking at times that someone is lazy or a no-hoper or purposefully out to make others’ lives miserable! The funny thing is that once we have decided that about a person, it’s very difficult to change our minds. It can be even worse when we consider how we think about ourselves. I’m constantly reminded of the great Henry Ford quote:

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

It rings true in so many areas of life. Do you believe you can be a great leader? Do you think you can change your attitudes and habits? Do you think an under-performing colleague can improve? Whether we answer yes or no to these questions can seal our fate.

I’m not suggesting that skills development, reading and training are not useful – they can be extremely helpful. What I’m highlighting is that without an appropriate set of attitudes and beliefs – all the training courses in the world will only get you so far. Think about someone for example going on an influencing skills workshop – when they truly believe that they will never be any good at influencing or managing people. It’s difficult to get much out of any skills development if we believe we can’t.

Quite simply, we’re talking about being open – or having a Growth Mindset as researcher and author Carol Dweck describes it. If we believe that everyone can learn, develop and get better at things – we are more likely to be successful and encourage learning from mistakes.

Consider your beliefs about yourself and your colleagues.  What do you believe about yourself, your knowledge, strengths, weaknesses and potential – and your capacity to learn, develop and change?

How might those beliefs help you in your development? How might your beliefs limit you? What would be an alternative view that might help you grow and be more successful?

What do you believe about each of your colleagues (consider particular people in turn that you are looking to influence) – their knowledge, strengths, weaknesses and potential – and their capacity to learn, develop and change?

How might those beliefs help you in your conversations with that person? How might your beliefs limit me? What would be an alternative view that might help you be more successful in your work with that person?

Influencing Model

Aside from developing our attitudes and beliefs to be more successful, we also need practical tools and tips to influence effectively.

The following model of influencing from the Cambridge Leadership Group has proven to be extremely useful across contexts:

Or in more detail…

Underneath this core structure you can build in techniques to help you stick to saying what you intended to say:

Collect data before speaking to someone, giving a presentation or giving feedback – the more evidence you have, the more facts you can present, which will leave you feeling more in control and  rational.  This could be numbers like billings, customer feedback scores etc or behavioural information like, “a client has told me that…” or “I noticed that you…”

Give one piece of information at a time – otherwise we talk too much and overload. Try the sentence structure, “I think….Because….What do you think?” – e.g. “I think the team could be more positive and focused on our targets, because I often hear them talking negatively and saying that they don’t want to make sales. What do you think?”

State your opinion – it is one thing to want to be seen as rational, it’s another to not say any of what we think, feel and observe.  What are you thinking when they are talking?  When they say they agree with you, do you get the impression they really do?  You can state these things in a rational way by using, “I get the impression that…” “I’m not convinced that…because…”  These statements do not sound emotional when you ensure you say them without anger, judgement or frustration.

Keep asking questions – to avoid being overly controlling and taking over the conversation with your views of what should be done and why, ask questions.  Ask the other person what they think about what you’ve said, what they think the real issue is, what they think can be done about it, what they will do, what support they want from you etc.

Challenge your own views of comfort – are you actually helping you or the other person by avoiding saying what you really think?  How does it help?  How does it hinder?  Keep this in mind when giving feedback to avoid backing out of great, honest conversations.  Notice the difference between what you’re thinking and what you’re saying.

Try it for yourself: split a page into two columns.

In the left column, write out what you were saying in the conversation and on the right, what you were thinking.  Could you say more of what you’re thinking?  What about taking time during the conversation to stop and think – “what do I really think about this and how can I say that to this person in an appropriate way?”

As leaders, influencing is a fundamental skill. In all conversations – with clients, stakeholders, team members and peers, we have the opportunity to test out different approaches, build relationships and drive mutually beneficial outcomes using the techniques outlined here.

Try them out. Experiment with different language and find what works for you, and those you are influencing.