Influence is the Value Force of Leadership

This post is part of our 2017 Lead Change Group Guest Blogger Series. Today we are pleased to share a post from Jeff Thurston.

All leaders have a sphere of influence. It can be defined as the context in which influence is felt. In some cases, this sphere of influence is small, perhaps extending only to an immediate coworker, friend, or family member. In other cases, it is felt across the entire organization, such as in the case of a CEO. In rare cases, a leader’s sphere of influence can extend across an entire industry, nation, or even all of society. An effective CEO such as Steve Jobs for example, can cause financial markets to shift, buying patterns to stall, or entire industries to scramble. And in many such cases, it takes no more than a simple statement.

Clearly, these are two extremes of the influence spectrum. So it is important to understand that the influence spectrum is wide-ranging and vast. Because of this, there are many opportunities for just about anyone to have influence and thus to begin their own journey of leadership. One simply has to recognize these opportunities and to understand how to wield influence within their own sphere.

To understand these opportunities requires a fundamental understanding of influence because influence is the value force of leadership. Influence determines the extent and effectiveness of the leader. Influence can take many forms and in most cases, an effective leader will leverage many forms of influence to achieve a desired response. This is a skill that is built up over time, as one embarks on their own leadership journey.

Take the example the CEO role. One form of influence that is inherent in this role is positional influence; the CEO is “the boss” and therefore the organization follows. Many CEOs will likely tell you that there are limits to positional influence and that it should be used sparingly, if at all. A CEO who simply barks out orders is unlikely to remain effective for very long. There are better forms of influence that are far more effective and far more sustainable. A good leader will have an arsenal of influence-based strategies that help to define him or her as a leader and ultimately define their success.

Trust may be one of the most common and effective forms of influence. A leader who has built a great deal of trust is far more likely to be able to influence a situation than one who is unknown. A new leader’s sphere of influence may be initially established only through positional influence. But as that manager achieves success, trust begins to build. Eventually, those in his sphere of influence may be thinking, “This guy has a pretty good track record, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and follow his lead.” In some cases, some may follow without being convinced of the benefits in doing so; they are following because they trust the leader to lead them to success.

Another common form of influence is intimidation. Most leaders would likely agree that intimidation is not a sustainable form of influence, but it does have its place. It could be because other forms of influence have not been sufficiently successful. Or perhaps intimidation is based on an emotional reaction to a challenging situation. Consider a situation where a high-profile project team has missed deadline after deadline and nothing else seems to work. A manager might be inclined to turn to intimidation through a statement such as “You have now missed our deadline 3 times, so if you want to keep your jobs, you’ll work the weekend to ensure that this project is completed by Monday.” Intimidation as a form of influence can be effective, but a good leader will rarely use it to achieve a desired result because it tends to overshadow and undermine more sustainable forms of influence.

Trust, intimidation, and position are just three types of influence. There are many others that are common and effective. To discuss them all would likely fill an entire book. But if you stop to think about it, you may realize that nearly everyone is able to exert some form of influence in everyday life. Are you using that influence wisely and to your benefit? Are you doing what you can to achieve good outcomes for you, your team, or your family? As your day unfolds, give some thought to the influence you have and how you leverage it within your sphere of influence to make good things happen.

Jeff Thurston has been leading teams of various shapes and sizes most of his life. Throughout his professional life, he has been in various information technology leadership roles ranging from project management to executive management. Jeff currently lives in the St. Louis area with his wife of 32 years. They have two sons; one is a school teacher and the other studies physics at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.