In the KWSM leadership program, I learned that a leader is someone we turn to when we want to know how we should think, feel, or behave. This is not limited to people in positions of authority. In fact, influence often begins from the ground up.
We don’t ask these people directly (most of the time), but we glance across the room at them often. Does she think that’s a good idea or a bad one? Did they laugh at that joke? Does he support the announcement that was just made or does he disagree?
Their opinions on things matter. We make decisions on how we think, feel, and behave once we figure out what influential people think or after observing how they handle situations. We trust them.
Are you aware of your influence?
It wasn’t until after I participated in the KWSM Leadership Program that it crossed my mind that someone could potentially glance over at me with those same questions. I am usually looking toward someone else.
I watch for how certain leaders handle stress or respond to difficult questions. I watch how they pivot quickly as things evolve and change, and watch them prioritize people over productivity. I notice what they are not saying, and how instead they choose to verbally support the people who are not in the room.
Reassurance, support, belonging, and enthusiasm get added to the atmosphere when these people are present, and those factors contribute to shaping others’ perspectives, attitudes, and behavior for the better.
This ripple effect emphasizes the importance and power of a positive influence because as it turns out, everyone brings their influence with them into the room. But not everyone realizes that you can choose the type of influence you have.
What makes people influential?
We learned in the KWSM Leadership Program that people are much more likely to trust you if they like you, and as human beings, we tend to like people who are respectable, genuine, approachable, and reliable. In other words, we like people who others consider wise, who are themselves 100% of the time, who are easy to talk to, and who we can depend on when we need them.
For me, that checks out. The people I turn to in order to gauge their opinions, I happen to like as people. When I am talking to them, I feel listened to rather than tuned out. When they say they will get something to me by the end of the week, they follow through.
I now ask myself: Do I do those things? Am I bringing reassurance, support, belonging, and enthusiasm into the room with me for others to benefit from?
Influential people avoid three As.
In the KWSM Leadership Program, we also learned about some key things to avoid when we are hoping to influence people for the better:
Apathy: The people who influence me the most are interested in life. They get excited about things. They like what they do. We tend to not want to follow people who aren’t actually having any fun.
Ambivalence: We tend to avoid people who aren’t in our corner. The people who influence me the most are the people who make me feel a part of their team.
Aimlessness: It’s difficult to follow someone who isn’t going anywhere. But people who know where they want to go, and then invite others to come with them? That’s contagious, and people put trust in leaders like that.
Practicing influential micro-decisions.
Influence is wrapped up in our choices. How we choose to interact with others and what we choose to give voice to matters.
I can process stress externally rather than internally, but that doesn’t create an atmosphere that makes people feel seen and valued. It makes me seem busy and scattered. Not-present. Instead, I can choose to keep my worries to myself and choose to notice how others are doing instead. My stress level might just go down if I am not building it up with my words.
I can remain silent after announcements of change, internally wondering how things will turn out. But silence does not come across as support, and it does not make people feel heard or respected for their decisions. Instead, I can lend my active support to the team by voicing positive outlooks and speaking well of people who have to carry heavy responsibility on their shoulders.
I can use my busyness as an excuse to attend meetings scattered and unorganized, or I can value my coworkers’ time enough to take 10 minutes of prep time to collect my thoughts. This way my mindset is focused on contribution rather than passivity.
There are thousands of microscopic decisions we can make in a day that might not seem groundbreaking on their own. Over time, however, good decisions instead of the easiest ones stack, affecting and leading everyone in the space around us, including ourselves.
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