For the longest time, leadership in organizations was thought to be a matter of command and control. The adjective ‘fierce’ was often attributed to those who were deemed to be real powerful leaders.
While today’s business world is indeed very competitive and can sometimes be regarded as downright cut-throat, it’s not really a battlefield. The time of army general-type leaders has passed since the troupes of today are mainly made up of Millennials.
This demographic has a different view on who they want to follow and respond rather negatively to pointless displays of force. Rather than being pushed into a certain direction, they wish to follow only those who can motivate and inspire them.
Focus should be placed on involving everyone in the decision process
In today’s workplace, it is influential leadership that can drive the best results and have a positive impact on the way an organization functions and grows. Of course, this is also closely linked with organizational culture and values.
With companies struggling to keep their employees engaged and, as a result, productive, it is an absolute must to place great focus on the decision process and how all that are affected by it get to express their opinions, set their own individual and team objectives and take ownership of their projects and their work.
Ultimately, leaders who can demonstrate excellent soft and communication skills will be the most successful.
The three keys to success for influential leaders
All this is, however, easier said than done. With targets to be met and an ever-shifting market, business leaders can easily fall into the trap of being overly directive and micro-managing everyone to their frustration.
Influential leadership needs time and trust both on the part of the leader and of those who are expected to follow. There are three main ingredients to successful influence as a leader:
- Being persuasive by establishing a shared vision and values – this is the infamous “don’t just talk the talk but walk the walk” that encourages leaders to truly live by what they recommend for others;
- Inspiring engagement by getting commitment from each team member individually;
- Strategically driving initiatives so that the shared vision encourages collaboration.
Believing in one’s own words is the best way to convince others of their truth and value. Leaders need to share their own values and passions with the individual, team or company they’re working to influence.
It’s advisable to use empathy in order to understand what really matters to the other party. Mutual understanding is the key to a relevant connection and the path to getting everyone on board with the leader’s agenda and the objectives on it.
Honesty is also paramount, persuasion does by no means mean that leaders should trick their teams into doing what they and the organization want. Today’s employees respond very well to being truthfully informed about all that impacts them and if communication is in sync with shared values, it will not be seen as aggressive or coercive.
Once leaders manage to get everyone on board by means of persuasion, it’s very important to keep them there and rowing towards the desired objective. This is when leaders need to work at cultivating a sense of belonging and loyalty. Employee engagement (or better said, lack of it) is one of the major issues businesses face nowadays.
Building commitment requires continuous communication and support. It is wise to offer channels through which those who are interested can get informed, ask questions and share experiences with peers and superiors. Transparency and collaboration greatly aid the sense of belonging to a team or a larger relevant unit.
Another great way for leaders to inspire commitment is to focus on the interpersonal ties between and among team members and themselves. It’s not just about encouraging people to work together but about involving everyone in all relevant aspects of the work thus generating a feeling of ownership.
Strategically driving initiatives
Leaders don’t need to relinquish control altogether, just apply it strategically and without micromanaging. That means bringing forth initiatives and then delegating them to others while the leader acts more like a guide when it is necessary.
The job of the leader is to help the team understand exactly what they need to achieve and allow them to choose the methods by which they will get there. It’s also very important to allow for mistakes and have the back of those who make them when it happens. It’s not a relinquishment of control but it requires having and showing trust in the people who are supposed to get the job done.
Empowered teams are by far the most effective and influential leaders the most successful. They maintain a sort of strategic control over all situations without breathing down the employees’ necks all the time.
Influential leaders don’t need to display power or ‘carry a big stick’. They have the skill to use inclusive behaviors in order to maintain control and get everybody on board with what they need to get done. While the more authoritarian way of doing things might still work in situations of crisis, it is the modern influential leader that fits the business scene of the twenty-first century.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.