This week’s Ask A Coach question is: “what are some ways to be an influential leader, rather than just a manager?”. Their question comes from a desire to influence their team members, and a concern that they’re not really making a difference.

It was a little difficult for me to formulate a precise answer to with only a little bit of information, so I decided to start with the first step in my Introvert’s Career Accelerator Framework.

Read on to learn more, or skip to the Bottom Line.

What Kind of Influence Do You Want?

The first step in my Introvert’s Career Accelerator Framework is to ask: What do you want?

This may seem like almost an obvious first step, but so many people I’ve worked with spend more time trying to figure out what to do than the outcome they want to achieve.

I think of it like taking a vacation: most people start by trying to pick a destination, but skip over deciding the type of experience they want out of the vacation.

In this case, I asked the individual: When you say “influential leader”, what does that mean to you?

Then I provided them with an explanation of some of the different spheres of influence that a leader could have:

Influencing The Direction of the Company

At the macro level, a leader could have influence on the very direction and future of the company. This type of leader is sought out to provide input on key decisions for the company, whether or not it’s related to their current role.

Taken further, there can also be leaders who influence the direction of an industry, their community, etc. There are also leaders who have strong lateral influence, often finding themselves providing a second opinion or fresh perspective to their peers.

Influencing The Team

I typically only see people looking to increase their influence on a team that they have taken over, and almost exclusively if the team is languishing. Leaders can face challenges with gaining the trust of their new team, especially if they’ve been underserved by their previous leader for a long time.

If you find yourself in this situation, I highly recommend Michael D. Watkins‘ book The First 90 Days. It outlines several strategies and practical approaches that can really help with navigating that challenge.

Influencing Individual Team Members

Then there is my favourite type of influence: being able to influence the growth, development and direction of an individual’s career. This type of influence is no easier earned than the others, but I find it so much more rewarding because it has a much more visceral impact on an individual.

And while influencing a team, company or group of people has wide-reaching impact, there’s a beautifully subtle ripple effect of impact when you’re able to guide the growth of an individual. When a leader is able to influence the trajectory of an individual, they carry that enthusiasm with them into their personal life, bringing joy and hope to their family, friends and community.

To my delight, the individual curious about increasing their influence wanted to know about influencing at an individual level. They wanted to know if there were word choices, or a skillset, or anything else they could improve so that when they provided feedback to someone, they’re actually listening to it and it’s making a difference?

The Key To Influencing an Individual

Luckily, being able to influence someone’s development through feedback is actually simpler than most people make it out to be.

The key to it is understanding their goals and objectives.

Their Goals and Objectives

As a manager, you will always have your own goals and objectives. Some of these are personal ones you identified for yourself–for example, this leader wants to be more influential to their team and make a real difference. Others will be set for you, such as hitting certain productivity or sales targets, or meeting deadlines.

Your team members will have the same.

From the lens of being able to influence the growth of an individual, the most powerful way to achieve this is to choose and deliver feedback that is directly tied to their goals and objectives–not yours.

Let’s look at how this will apply in goals and objectives that are prescribed to them, versus ones that they have set for themselves.

Goals Set for Them

As their manager and leader, you have likely set goals for them to meet for the year. These could be measurable goals tied to company objectives, or soft-skill goals that you identified for them.

Depending on the individual’s skills, aptitude and the environment they’re working in, there will be different strengths for them to avoid overusing, and others they need to develop to meet their prescribed goals. In this case, I recommend being direct about the potential of your suggestion to improving their ability to meet these goals.

This will provide clear context for them on why you are providing the suggestion, and which goal it will help them reach.

Goals They Set for Themselves

Now if you want to make the biggest impact on them, focus instead on finding ways to help them with goals they set for themselves. While they may or may not care about the reward that comes with meeting their prescribed goals, they’ll be intrinsically driven to work towards their own goals.

These could be goals like a promotion, getting more visibility, or limiting the number of hours they work so they can spend more time with loved ones. I have even helped people with personal goals to their great delight, such as an individual who taught cooking classes on the weekend and was looking for ways to attract more clients.

By offering feedback on their personal goals, not only are they more likely to consider your suggestion, but it will an undeniable demonstration that you care about their growth as a whole person–not just a number or body to achieve the team and company’s goals.

Personalize the Feedback

Because we’re talking about influencing an individual through feedback, let’s talk a little bit about personalizing the feedback for them.

Hopefully, you know them well enough to have an idea of how to deliver the feedback to them in a way that will increase their openness and understanding of it. When I speak about personalizing the feedback, I mean understanding what suggestions they are more likely to resonate with.

Let’s say you have two employees, both of whom are looking to be promoted to senior and both who need to increase their profile with management. For the sake of this example, we’ll assume there is no limit on the number of employees who can be promoted to senior.

Although their goals and their area of development are the same, it’s possible that how they approach their development could be very different. Let’s take the classic dichotomy of extravert versus introvert.

For an extravert, you may suggest you work with them to find an opportunity for them to present their ideas at an upcoming leadership meeting. This would work well for them, as it would invigorate their natural attraction to public speaking and working with large groups.

And although this is a great option for some, it would not be as well received for an introvert. For them, you may suggest a different tactic, such as setting up one-on-one meetings with leaders to discuss their ideas. The individual meeting is something they are more likely to consider, since introverts prefer one-on-one or small group settings over large groups.

Bottom Line

So there you have it–to be an influential leader, you first need to decide which sphere(s) in which you want to have influence.

In the case of influencing individuals, you need to understand and target their goals. These can be goals set for them (likely by you or your company) or, for more impact, goals they set for themselves.

Then you need to be thoughtful in providing them customized feedback that matches their values, preferences and personality. In that way, you will have the best chance to make a real difference in that person’s career…and maybe their life.

Curious about how you can be an influential leader in another sphere? Or do you have a different question entirely?

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