Leaders influence others

How do leaders influence people?

“Leadership is the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives.” (Yukl, G. (2010). Leadership in organizations (7th ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. p. 8)

At the core of most definitions of school leadership are two functions: “providing direction” and “exercising influence.” Influence is the ability to personally affect the actions, decisions, opinions, or thinking of others.

Influence is a higher order communication skill that seeks to effect change. The ability to effectively influence others (students, colleagues, governors and other key stakeholders) is a key skill for school leaders, and essential to getting work done. In many cultures, organizations are getting flatter, more collaborative and team-oriented in their decision making. That means that old-fashioned top down authority is not going to carry the weight it might once have done. Schools are no exceptions to this.

According to Alan Vengel, one of the most listened to voices on this subject, "The ability to influence people is not something people are born with, but something anyone can learn." (The Influence Edge, 2009:1)

The activities in this section of the website will explore the importance of influencing others, and provide you with models and techniques to help you effectively get someone else to help you achieve your goals. We will explore key characteristics displayed by effective influencers, look at the push-pull influencing model, identify different types of influencing behavior and explore the levels of motivation you will need to effectively influence others.

"Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another." --John C. Maxwell

This quote resonates with me, because most people that I look up to as a leader, don't have a title. They act on what is best for others, and put themselves last. They care more about helping people and making them successful.  Those that sit back in the shadows, work hard, and don't look to be recognized are some of the best leaders out there. 

When I read this quote I automatically think of one of the teachers on my campus, a complete rock star.  She does everything for the kids and the community they live in. She is never looking for kudos, or a helping hand. When I see the impact she has made on kids, I envy how dedicated she is and hope to be more like her. (Jean Parlamento)

Guiding definitions

Consider the following definitions of leadership. Identify key words and discuss how appropriate they are to the role of a school leader.

Leadership is “a social process...attributed to those who are seen to influence others in ways that advance the group or organisation’s progress toward its goals” (Katz & Kahn 1996)

At the core of most definitions of leadership are two functions: “providing direction” and “exercising influence.” (Leithwood et al, How leadership influences student learning (2004:20)

"Leadership is a social influence process guided by a moral purpose with the aim of building capacity by optimising available resources towards the achievement of shared goals." (Dimmock, C., Leadership, Capacity Building and School Improvement:concepts themes and impact 2012, Routledge).

Reflection: What do we mean by influence?

  • How would you define ‘influence’?
  • Why is influencing important to leaders who want to be effective and want to implement change?
  • What words might go into a definition?
  • In your professional life currently, who most influences you in an effective way?  How do they do it?
  • Consider people within your context - maybe politicians - who is effective and why? What have they done?
  • Who are some of the worst influencers you have come across? What have they done?
  • To be a more effective influencer, I would like to be better at … (please complete the sentence)

Learning engagement: HOW do leaders influence others?

Influence has the power to change everything.

In this learning engagement we will look at four videos. You could allocate these videos to different groups to watch, identify key messages and feedback to the whole group in plenary. Consider how they appeal to the influencing tactics articulated by the Centre for Creative Leadership.

Video #1: People are influenced by the WHY?

In this video Simon Sinek distinguishes between WHY, WHAT and HOW. Those who start with THE why (belief) will inspire others. We follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. Those who start with why that have the ability to inspire those around them.

Video #2: Sources of influence

Watch the following video on the six sources of influence in which Joseph Grenny takes an analytical approach to revealing what it takes to generate behavior and affect crucial change.

Identify the key messages for you about how leaders should influence others?

Video #3: Leadership qualities affect how you influence

In this RSA animate Dan Pink talks about the importance of three leadership qualities as we try and influence others:

  • Attunement: can I understand someone else's point of view?
  • Buoyancy: can I remain resilient and bouyant in the face of rejection?
  • Clarity: can I help someone make their way through this murk of information?

Video #4: The science of persuasion

"Researchers have been studying the factors that influence us to say “yes” to the requests of others for over 60 years. There can be no doubt that there’s a science to how we are persuaded, and a lot of the science is surprising. When making a decision, it would be nice to think that people consider all the available information in order to guide their thinking. But the reality is very often different. In the increasingly overloaded lives we lead, more than ever we need shortcuts or rules of thumb to guide our decision-making." Robert Cialdini's had identified the following 6 principles of persuasion:

  • Reciprocity
  • Scarcity
  • Authority
  • Consistency
  • Liking
  • Consensus

Great articles

Use these articles to reflect on how people influence

10 powerful ways to influence people positively, Jennifer R Farmer

1. Be authentic: We need to be ourselves. The best version of ourselves, to lead by example.

2. Listen: We need to listen to people. It will make them feel appreciated.

3. Become an expert: We need to be experts in our fields, in order to be respected by other team members. 

4. Lead with a story: We need to be able to narrate stories about what we are trying to achieve.

5. Lead by example

6. Catch people doing good: We need to name and notice contributions

7. Be effusive with praise: We need to praise examples of good practice. Try to see everything good the teachers are doing.

8. Be kind, rather than right. We need to try to understand people. 

9.Understand a person’s logical, emotional, and cooperative needs

10. Understand your lane: We need to operate from our sphere of influence.

9 core behaviours of people who positively impact the world, Kathy Caprino, Forbes

1. Dedicate yourself to what gives your life meaning and purpose. Being a teacher, if you don't believe in education for all and that all students, with hard work, can be successful is impossible.  You need to dedicate your time to finding ways to make this possible.

2. Commit to continually bettering yourself. The world is evolving so should we.  Education is not a static environment.  There is always something new to learn and a way to improve our teaching methods.  Stay open-minded is key.

3. Engage with people in open, mutually-beneficial ways.  I regularly remind people (staff and students) that we always have something to learn from one another. Someone can bring us pure knowledge but it can also be about shared values, new perspectives, developing abilities, etc.  We learn when we listen and care about others, not when we take advantage.

4. Invest time and energy not in what is, but what can be.  Again, it's about being proactive, being a risk-taker.  

5. Embrace critique.  No one is perfect but we can all perfect ourselves. We learn when we accept critique, not when we stay in our comfort zone.

6. Spread what you know.  I am always seeking new opportunities to learn and to get involved into the creating process of our local and national programs.  Along the way, I always try to have other teachers and staff members accompany me in that journey.  

7. Uplift others as you ascend.  When everybody is going in the same direction, such having a great strategic vision in place, only positive can come out of it. 

8. View your journey as a goal.  It's all about the learning experiences for all. 

9. Use your power and influence well.  Being a leader often comes with responsibilities and people often look up to you and your saying.  That influence has to be used to elevate others.  Once again, it's all about the power of having everybody going in the same direction.

4 keys to strengthen your ability to influence others, Center for Creative Leadership

The best leaders have these 4 key influencing skills:

  1. Organizational Intelligence: They understand how to get things done and embrace the reality of working within organizational politics to move teams and important initiatives forward.
  2. Team Promotion: Leaders cut through the noise to authentically but credibly promote themselves — while also promoting what’s good for the entire organization.
  3. Trust-Building: Because leadership often involves guiding people through risk and change, trust is essential.
  4. Leveraging Networks: No leader is an island. They are empowered by their connections with others.

Use these 9 tactics to effectively influence others (Kent State University)

  1. Logic – Convince someone by using factual, logical and step-by-step reasoning.
  2. Inspiration – Suggesting what may happen as opposed to fact-based reasoning. This appeals to emotions more than logic.
  3. Participation – Asking a number of questions where the answers will lead the other person to draw his own conclusions.
  4. Uplift – Making someone feel good about him/herself and start listening to you.
  5. Deal – Offering something in return for something. Quid pro quo (Latin) “this for that”.
  6. Favor – Asking for something you want.
  7. Collective – Using the view of other people to influence someone.
  8. Policy – Authority is effective as a quick response to a problem. It is very blunt and sometimes provocative.
  9. Force – Exercising power. Always a last resort.

How to Increase Your Influence at Work, Rebecca Knight, 2018

To be effective in organizations today, you must be able to influence people. Here are some tips on how to position yourself as an informal leader, even if you’re not a formal one.

Strategize. Create a “power map” — an org chart of decision makers related to the initiative you wish to promote — to guide your campaign. Think about how and when you will approach your colleagues.

Craft your message. Prepare a concise elevator pitch about your idea. Then, based on your map, customize your pitch, taking into account your individual colleagues’ needs, perspectives, and temperaments.

Cultivate allies. Ask colleagues for their advice and incorporate their feedback. Enlist colleagues who are enthusiastic about your idea to serve as ambassadors.

Develop expertise. Stay up-to-date about your topic area. Attend conferences, enroll in a certification program, or assume a leadership position in a professional organization. These visible steps help you become that go-to person that others look to for advice.

    Reflection: The hidden power of smiling

    In his TED talk Ron Gutman explores the influential power of smiling. It’s a great video to share with staff and students.

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