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Just thinking about them brings up the sweet, cinnamon-sugar scent and immediately reminds me of one of the people who had so much influence in my life. Every quarter he would bake dozens of snickerdoodle cookies and bring them into the KCBS Radio newsroom in San Francisco where my colleagues and I would elbow each other to get to the basket where we could snatch several of these heavenly cookies.
Baking snickerdoodles may not be the secret to influencing people, but for radio broadcast legend Al Hart, it was one of the many ways he inspired me with his homemade creations and motivated confidence and trust among those with whom he worked.
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Influencing people is one of the most significant undertakings you face as a leader. Oxford Languages defines influence as “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.”
When you have that sort of effect on others, you have power. Not a power borne of coercion – rather a strength from within you that invites people to listen to what you have to say, gets them to want to work with you, prepares them to take the next step and encourages them to share your vision.
How do you become influential in your workplace? I’ve found there are a number of similar ingredients that fill the lives of the people who influence me most. Turns out these folks are also my heroes.
In fact, I think of one of these three influential heroes nearly every day as I make decisions.
Al Hart, a KCBS Radio News anchor for decades, demonstrated that good guys actually do win. He was intentional about knowing the names of those with whom he worked. On birthdays and special occasions, he sent hand-written cards.
He was prepared every morning to write and report on the news of the day and ready to ask the tough questions when necessary. He was transparent and let you know exactly what he was thinking. He wanted the best for everyone around him. His influence on my work ethic, the importance of being kind and laughing out loud comes to mind on a regular basis. My mantra has often been, “when I grow up, I want to be Al Hart.”
My Aunt Marie ran the office of prominent hand surgeons in Chicago for more than thirty years, all the while extending love and grace and courage to her nieces and nephews around the country. For the past 10 years, we have exchanged weekly phone calls. She is always ready to share a newspaper article, recount a story about someone she just met at Trader Joe’s or describe a most obscure fruit she’s discovered at the farmer’s market.
She taught me to love preparing food from scratch, to organize flowers by color and size, and to create a vegetable garden in just about any workable space. She reaches out and relates on every day events, celebrates milestones and grieves when I’ve suffered a loss. She is my cheerleader.
I never had the chance to meet writer Madeleine L’Engle, but I feel like I know her intimately through her memoirs, novels and her daily meditations. She continued to write after being rejected for more than a decade. Now who hasn’t read or watched “A Wrinkle in Time?”
Her deep love of humanity, the way she blended science and faith, how she cared for members of her family, her ability to sit quietly on a rock near a stream and how she boldly spoke out in any setting motivate me to do the same. Each time I pick up and read through one of her books, I strive to be more like her.
You may discover that as you think about the heroes in your life – they possess qualities you want more of in yourself. When you consider becoming a person of influence, following your heroes is a great place to begin. Then chart your own course.
We all hear about “influencers” now, thanks to social media. That type of influence has little in common with effective influence at work. Once you grasp what it feels like to be inspired by people who’ve made a defining mark in your life, you have a sense for meaningful influence, person to person.
These four key characteristics distinguish someone as a person of influence:
They are intentional. You can spot someone who is deliberate by how ready for action they are in their work and life. They prioritize what needs to be done throughout the day using efficient scheduling and keeping their sights on a long-term view. They also choose their words with care -- when it comes to influence, words matter.
They prepare for their presentations with research and collaborate with others to offer their best in a given situation. And they do this consistently by practicing these behaviors on a regular basis with a daily routine.
They connect. When you come into the space of someone who is influential, you are included. Sometimes you are asked questions, other times you’re offered feedback, all to bring you into the loop – the circle of trust.
This connection reminds you that while they are leading the effort, they do not choose to do it alone. This is why you are much more likely to want to collaborate with them and excited about the possibilities of what you might accomplish together.
They are resilient. The influential person is aware that things don’t always go as planned. When the unexpected happens, they are ready to dig in and find new ways to manage a situation. They are also willing to share this new strategy with their team.
By taking calculated risks and revealing what they are facing, you know they are there for the long haul. The challenges are not debilitating, rather they offer the person of influence a chance to reframe, reboot and come up with a new plan of action.
They are life-long learners. In the presence of a person of influence, you’re keenly aware that they are one step ahead because of how they constantly choose to grow and learn. They never tell you they’ve arrived, because they know there’s something that will interest them around the corner.
It is this passion for growth that draws you to take that next course, stay up late to master a program or read a fascinating book on your business. You are drawn to their level of enthusiasm as you see the impact of learning for the sake of learning.
Now it’s your turn. If you’re ready to build influence, here are eight steps that will significantly change how you relate to your colleagues, direct reports, superiors or anyone in your life.
Listen without interruption. Listening well is all about your state of mind. When you listen, you are present. Pay attention to what someone is saying and not to what you want to say. In fact, practice repeating the last sentence, or part of the sentence, the other person says. This repetition helps establish a connection because the other person feels heard -- you are listening.
Or paraphrase -- “I heard you say….” -- to check your understanding and demonstrate that you care enough to understand. Then if there’s any confusion you will know immediately, and you can request clarification. Being listened to is rare enough that doing so genuinely is likely to raise your influence with the person you listen to.
Act with integrity. When your actions stem from a core value of integrity, you are aligned with your whole self and coherent. From the Latin “integer,” a person with integrity is whole and complete. Acting with integrity means that you bring yourself with you wherever you are: at work, home, in the checkout line. You recognize that what you do has an impact on those around you.
In addition, you are the same person, recognizable regardless of setting. Integrity also implies coherence between your values, your actions, your words -- irrespective of context.
Do what you say you’re going to do. If your goal is to get others to count on you, honor your commitments. When you say you’ll have a response by tomorrow at 9am, have it in their inbox before that time. Should something prevent you from following through, let someone know that you’re on it and when you’ll be able to respond. When others feel that you are dependable, you become a reliable presence.
Give others a voice. As much as you’d like to share your ideas, pause and ask for someone else to introduce or share a suggestion. Making sure those around you are heard and understood gives them the freedom to say what they want to say. You empower others by offering them this opportunity, and they will feel included in the process.
Take care of yourself. In order to be present and lead the way for others to follow, check in with yourself on a regular basis. This involves physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Are you exercising and eating well? How about regulating your emotions? Who are the people you turn to when you need to talk? Do you make the time to be mindful and pause for reflection? When your needs are being met, you are far more likely to be aware of the needs of those around you.
Be relevant with your skills. Being influential means staying up to date with the latest developments in your industry. You are ready to pivot, if necessary, when it’s time to make changes. You are also, observably, aware of change and embrace the constant of change.
Holding fast to the “way things are done” or “I know best” is not a recipe for influence in today’s workplace. Observing trends and forecasts, you adapt and reinforce what you know and what you need to know. You’re cognizant of practices that can make your business stronger and more competitive.
Stay focused on what matters. Removing yourself from minor issues and competition sets you apart as a person of influence. That’s because you’re much more interested in knowing what makes others tick so they can perform better and more effectively. You direct strategic steps that will take your team to the next level and do your work in a manner that demonstrates exceptional standards.
Engage with others. If you want people to be interested in where you’re headed, you will do what it takes to relate to them in an authentic and meaningful way. You know the names and tendencies of the people you work with on every level and find ways to bring out the best in them. You tackle obstacles as a group and celebrate wins together. You are transparent enough that those around you feel as if they know you, too.
Bonus Tip: Be interested. One surefire way to get people interested in your project, and influence them to join you, is by being, yourself, very interested in your project. Authentic passion and excitement is contagious, especially when the impact is clear.
Building influence through example and conviction won’t net you millions of followers. But in the workplace, it can have a longer-lasting ripple effect, shaping organizational decisions, direction, and culture, and earning commitment and loyalty.
As you build influence, you may have no idea that what you’re doing is making an impact on someone else. You might be thorough, offer feedback, support a co-worker or complete a challenging project because that’s what you do and who you are. Your character develops when no one is looking. Only in hindsight do you realize that you are, in fact, unpacking what it means to influence people.
Oh, and Snickerdoodles are always a great idea!
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If you’d like to do a deeper dive into influence as it relates to work, check these out.
- How to Make Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey
- Becoming a Person of Influence, John C. Maxwell
- Conscious Business, by Fred Kofman
- Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini