In a recent Harvard Business Review article titled “How Experts Gain Influence,” a group of financial thought leaders explain how to bolster your influence within an organization through four key competencies: the ability to be a trail blazer, team worker, translator, and toolmaker. Since the art of persuasion is a critical factor in the success of any leader, let’s examine each one:
- Trail blazing: This involves finding new ways of using your expertise to solve problems. For example, a risk management officer featured in the article incorporates two additional steps into her company’s litany of activities to police compliance and help avert risk. These include speaking with employees “deep in the organization” once a week and demanding to attend weekly executive committee and monthly board meetings. The insight—and visibility—she gains as a result help her avert emerging risks and assert her perspectives to attentive audiences. I believe this competency also includes having the ability to see the big picture. It’s taking a wide and constant breadth of your organization’s ongoing activities to identify potential weaknesses and inroads to critical solutions.
- Tool making: This involves “developing and deploying tools that embody and spread expertise.” Tool makers can assess the efficacy of their software and analytical communications. They and their teams are innovators in determining the best approach to measure and convey metrics. This competency ties in closely with the next two.
- Fostering teamwork: This allows others the opportunity to see their own influence in new tools and processes. I know, “teamwork” —we hear it so often that sometimes, we don’t hear it. However, others will more readily adopt a new process (in other words follow your lead) when they’ve had a chance to weigh in. Gaining at least opinions, not always consensus, is the key here.
- Translating complex information into simple terms: This is huge. Oftentimes, it’s not enough to ensure that your explanations are clear to first line listeners, since they must turn around and explain your points to others—to decision makers. Influential people know how to also influence through others. They have the ability to ensure their points will be properly perceived when they cannot personally convey them. In the article, our savvy risk management officer encourages her team to consider financial literacy, crafting analytical tools without technical jargon. Her team uses icons (traffic signals) in communications to convey high level information.
While improving your ability to influence others also depends on your personal character and overall competency, I believe these four tactics can help foster the communicative skills that others respect in their leaders. Those who demonstrate these competencies have the potential to differentiate themselves not only as influential, but as truly inspirational.