How to Win Influence and Keep It

Once upon a time there was a Battery. This Battery was very proud because he was full of power. What he didn't know was his power had been granted to him from the beginning. It was built in - he had this power simply because he was a battery.

Anytime he wanted, the Battery could use his power to make things move. He could influence action and he was fantastic at it.

But there was a problem. One day the Battery discovered his power supply was empty. The horror! You see, unbeknownst to him, he had a limited supply that could not be replenished. Each time he used his power, it drained until eventually he had no power at all. And in the end, as often happens to batteries when they’re out of power, he was thrown away. Discarded. Obsolete.

The Solar Panel had more humble beginnings. At first, she had no power and was unable to make things happen. But unlike the Battery, she discovered the ability to gain power. Jackpot! And whenever she collected it, she found that she too could influence action. Lucky for her, anytime her power drained, she simply replenished her supply.

In the end, because of her unlimited source of power, she was never thrown away. Her value was infinite. She was important, useful, and effective!

What can we learn from this fable of the battery and the solar panel?

Power and Influence

As leaders, we must master the art of influence if we expect to make a difference in this world.

Harry Truman described leadership as “the ability to get other people to do what they don’t want to do, and like it.” Truman’s statement is about influence and it raises an important issue:

Leadership requires influence. Influence requires power. But power is a limited resource.

Power can be categorized into two types:

  • Token Power
  • Earned Power

Token Power is what we find in formal positions of authority. It is built in by virtue of being "the boss." It is bestowed. When applied inside a hierarchical structure, this kind of influence forms a relationship with two outcomes:

  • this OR that
  • this FOR that

Put another way, as the boss, we can giveth and we can taketh away. And because of this promise of punishments and rewards, our result is compliance. That is, people do things because we say so. They comply.

On one hand, this is a positive. We need compliance in business, don't we? It keeps us out of trouble. In many ways, it serves as a safety mechanism - a risk mitigator. A way to ensure the job gets done.

Yet, in the long-run, there’s a problem with this simple give and take relationship.

While at first, we may benefit from compliance, as we continue to push our people, one of two things will happen.

  • We will push them away
  • Or they'll start to push back

And when this happens, we discover that, like the Battery from our story, our token power was only ever a limited resource. A token, if you will. Symbolic. After a while, this power source drains and stops working. It has no value.

While token power can bear fruit in the short-run, it fails to affect what’s really important in the long-run. That is, the attitudes, values, and beliefs of our people – and that's where the real magic happens.

Token power is easy, but only short-term.

Earned Power

If token power is a limited resource, is there another option? Like the Solar Panel from our story, a better source of power is to earn it.

But you still have to work for it. Unlike token power, it doesn't come with a bestowed title.

Also, in the absence of token power – as is the case with those without a manager title – we need a second option if we’re to inspire change in others.

Where does earned power come from?

  1. Be good at what you do – know your craft and deliver consistent results
  2. Be trustworthy – exercise transparency with your agenda and match your words with your actions
  3. Be likeable – practice civility and demonstrate genuine care for others

Do you need all three in order to effectively influence others?

Consider Alex, who is highly knowledgeable and skilled. With these traits, she can certainly get a lot done. But if she treats her coworkers poorly in the process of hitting targets and smashing company records, soon enough, she’ll notice her indicator light blinking: low power.

Simply put, don’t be an “unlikeable expert” and still expect to have sustainable influence.

Conversely, consider Jorge. He is what Alex isn’t. He’s super likable AND a record-smasher. That’s a strong combination. Only, we discover his problem is he’s broken too many promises. No one trusts him. His result? No influence.

What about Tom, who everyone likes and trusts, but who can't meet a deadline to save his life? You guessed it - zero influence.

To be an effective influencer we need the triad – get results, have integrity, be a nice person. With this combination, we have the potential to not only inspire actions, but influence hearts and minds. That’s not just a power, that’s a superpower!

Earned Power Requires a Recharge

The best leaders close their ears to the siren song of token power, because they know its effects are weak and potential is limited. Instead, they tap into the only source of power that leads to true influence. It must be earned.

But heed this word of caution. While earned power can be infinite, like token power, it does have a shelf life. That is, only if we fail to recharge.

The reality is, whenever we use our power - whatever the source - it drains. Therefore, in order to have career-lasting influence, we must regularly recharge the source. As long as we continue getting results, winning trust, and being likable - the earned-power triad - we will rediscover the ability to shake things up and make things happen.

What can we learn from the fable of the battery and the solar panel? Token power is a limited resource with short-term results. Earned power is what we want - an infinite and sustainable source of influence.