The ability to influence others is often the most important factor that determines whether or not someone will be successful as a leader. Understanding how you influence others is an important step in developing as a leader because it identifies tendencies and areas for potential improvement. While there are many strategies that can be deployed in various situations, the most effective leaders tend to use one of four key styles most frequently.
Each strategy can be used in a variety of situations, but depending too heavily on a single approach can be counterproductive in the long term. Part of developing as a leader is understanding when to break out of routines and use the most effective strategy for the situation. Knowing your primary influencing style will help you better understand how to maximize its effectiveness and minimize its potential shortcomings.
If you find yourself consistently making logical arguments informed by facts and data to demonstrate why something needs to be done, your main influencing style is probably reasoning. Reasoning tactics are especially effective when a leader has identified areas of common ground and established credibility over time. By deploying facts to justify a request, leaders are also demonstrating their willingness to be transparent with information. Rather than simply telling a team member “what” to do, reasoning strategies also explain “why” the task needs to be done.
The logical nature of reasoning strategies can be very effective with people who are inclined to be swayed by objectively data-driven arguments, but others may find it detached and depersonalized. If someone is emotionally invested in a situation, they may feel like data is being used to invalidate their feelings. This can be especially problematic in conflict situations where the participants may feel that conceding basic points of facts undermines their position.
Sometimes it’s less about what you do and more about what you say. If you make frequent appeals to people’s values, beliefs, or emotions, you’re using the inspiring influencing style. By identifying the things that are important to team members, it’s easier to find ways to generate excitement and enthusiasm for ideas and proposals. Inspiring people is largely about creating a sense of purpose. If no one understands an organization’s greater mission, it can be difficult to see how the team’s goals contribute to a bigger picture or align with their own values and beliefs. When they have a better idea of how their individual efforts are part of something they regard as important and valuable, they’re more likely to be engaged in their work and committed to delivering the team’s outcomes.
Good leaders recognize that they don’t have all the answers. If you tend to seek out the suggestions or advice of others, then you make frequent use of the consulting influencing style. In many cases, leaders consult with others because they lack the relevant knowledge or expertise on a particular subject. Admitting that you don’t know everything and need some guidance helps to build a sense of trust because it shows you are willing to deal with people honestly and openly rather than trying to make yourself look good. Asking for guidance with consulting strategies also increases other people’s sense of ownership of the ideas and proposals that eventually result from the conversation. This creates a foundation for people to buy-into when it comes time to set plans in motion.
One of the more direct methods of getting people to comply with requests is to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. If you often work to remove obstacles and provide resources to help people complete their tasks more readily, you’re utilizing the collaborating influence style. While the term may imply the traditional definition of working together, collaboration in the influencing sense is more about identifying impediments and working with others to find ways to overcome them. Effective collaboration helps to build trust because it demonstrates that leaders are sensitive to the challenges team members face and are willing to work with them to develop solutions.
While effective leaders deploy a number of influencing styles in various situations, the four major styles tend to form the core of their influencing strategies. Understanding which style comes most naturally to you is an important step in learning to wield influence effectively as a leader. Knowing the shortcomings of those styles also helps to highlight where leaders can turn to other strategies in key situations, providing them with a diverse set of tools for leading their teams effectively.