What is the Role of “Influence” in Leadership Training?
In the business world, we like to throw around buzzwords that sound good but actually mean very little. One of those is “influential.” When we say we want “influential” leaders, or leaders who can “influence” people, what do we actually mean? What are the qualities of influential leaders, and how can you help leaders in your company incorporate them in their leadership training programs?
Many of today’s workplaces no longer have a straight up-and-down power structure. Forbes notes organization structures are “moving toward flatter, matrixed, and team-based models. In this model, power is more about one’s ability to influence and get things done outside traditional reporting lines.” Those without influence are powerless to motivate and guide their coworkers.
When I think of people I would consider influential, the three qualities they all have in common are trustworthiness, respect and a commitment to promoting positivity.
If you want people to trust you, be trustworthy. Do what you say you’ll do, and do it when you say you’ll do it. In the words of Jason DeMers, CEO of AudienceBloom, “That consistency is vital for building influence. Otherwise, you’ll have an air of unpredictability about you, and people won’t know whether to trust or impugn your suggestions.”
According to Training Mag, while many people view trust as an “inherent trait,” it’s something that can be developed during leadership training. The magazine suggests training that teaches leaders to be transparent with other employees about their decisions, to live the company values, and to give their employees the tools to succeed. The best methods for administering these types of training will depend largely on the needs and culture of the company.
While it has become cliché to say respect has to be earned, that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Respect is a currency in and of itself, and in order to earn that currency you have to spend it. The best way to be respected is to be respectful.
Some of the key building blocks of respect enter our lives as early as kindergarten. We learn to share, play fair, and avoid hurting others’ feelings as foundational principles of everyday social interactions.. Despite this foundation, it’s not uncommon for adults to struggle with other aspects of respect, such as communication.
To truly make people feel respected, you have to listen to them. Barbara Richman of Legacy Business Cultures recommends planning “to listen to the other person without interruption” and practicing “effective listening skills.” It also helps to know how to express yourself clearly. A lack of communication with other employees may result in misunderstandings, which in turn may cause barriers to mutual respect. At Duke University, leadership training includes role plays where leaders practice responding to different communication styles. Such role plays and scenarios allow opportunities to practice communicating and to receive feedback. Ideally, these role plays should start at employee onboarding and continue frequently throughout employment.
Commitment to Promoting Positivity
Research increasingly indicates a positive workplace is key to a successful workplace. The Harvard Business Review states “a positive environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line.” In order to achieve and maintain a positive work environment, it’s crucial for leaders to promote a culture of positivity in the workplace.
Mindful Mediation suggests “one of the most effective ways of creating positive workplace culture is through fulfilling human needs.” Human needs are best fulfilled when leaders treat employees like people and not just as billable resources.
There are many ways to foster these human connections. A few suggestions: remember what’s going on in coworkers’ lives; be understanding when coworkers are sick or are delayed by a snowstorm; discuss performance problems with coworkers rather than pointing fingers of blame. When workers feel they are treated well, they have greater enthusiasm for their jobs, and workplace positivity soars.
Training leaders to naturally promote positivity through human connections doesn’t necessarily have to be done in a formal leadership training setting. In fact, it might be better done through one-on-one training sessions. Be sure to offer both praise and specific suggestions on how to improve.
Training Technique Suggestions
Now that you know the qualities of good leadership, how can you design your training around teaching those qualities?
The specifics of your training will depend on your organization. However, Ray Carvey of Harvey Business Publishing advises focusing on three items when creating leadership training:
- Developing a leadership mindset
- Emphasizing learning rather than training
- Providing context, not just content
It also might be useful to try a technique referred to as leadership “development” rather than “training.” Mike Myatt writes, “You don’t train leaders, you develop them.” Myatt argues that training is too broad to help individual leaders, and using the word “train” puts the learning process in a box: “Don’t train leaders, coach them, mentor them, disciple them, and develop them, but please don’t attempt to train them.” Myatt’s definition of development requires guiding leaders along unique leadership paths rather than attempting uniformity.
Influence is crucial to leading in today’s workplaces. For leaders to influence those they lead, they should be trustworthy, respectful, and committed to promoting positivity. To help leaders develop those qualities, choose leadership training techniques to fit the needs of your organization and your leaders. “Influential,” which was once only a vague buzzword, will become a definable reality for you and your company.