You have developed your influence skills, mapped the territory, prepared, and implemented your plan for a specific influence situation. By now, you probably know whether this is a set of skills you really want to develop. As in any fitness program, your progress will depend on your willingness to be conscious, focused, and disciplined about regular practice. Ideally, as in a gym or fitness center, you will start with some simple, low-impact exercises and move on to ones that are more complex and risky as you become more skillful. If you want to become more powerful, graceful, and flexible as an influencer, there is no better exercise than to decide on a goal and consciously go after it. Following are some ideas to think about and some experiments to try at work, at home, and in your community.
A component of making things happen at work is the recognition that comes with being seen as an effective influencer. In today's flatter, more team-based organizations, leadership through influence is highly respected and valued. It is reasonable to expect that effective influence behavior will be related to career success. But, because it requires a willingness to risk, to be open about, and to stand up for your ideas and opinions, it also exposes you to jealousy and competitiveness. You will fail more often because you are initiating action more often. You will find it difficult to become less visible, even if you want to be.
A Fortune magazine article suggested that the one thing that unsuccessful CEOs had in common was a "failure to execute." (I did think that was rather obvious until I thought of a few failed CEOs who had executed the wrong thing only too well.) I would revise that to suggest that executives and other leaders fail most when they have a good idea and are unable to influence others to own it and make it happen.
Here are some suggestions about using your influence skills at work. Try one or two of them every day in a conscious way, and take a minute afterward to reflect on how the interaction went and what you learned from doing it. If you choose to influence someone with whom you are in a high-trust relationship, ask for feedback. Acknowledge that you are working on being more effective as an influencer. Ask what he or she noticed about your approach and how you could be more effective.
The next time a colleague or manager turns down your request, try using receptive behavior (inquire or facilitate) to learn what is in the way or what it would take for him or her to say "yes" to you; then use negotiate behavior to firm up an agreement.
By contrast, you will usually want to make things happen at home through influence without being recognized as the "mover and shaker." You will probably go out of your way to balance the influence relationships in your family or household (this is not the same as balancing the power relationships, which is not appropriate in families with young children). You have an opportunity to model a way of accomplishing results that helps everyone in the household feel both involved and committed and to develop a set of skills that will pay lifelong dividends. If there are children in the household, you will be offering them the invaluable gift of learning how to make things happen in their own lives in a way that is respectful of others, empowering to themselves and the family, and productive of results.
It is a good idea to let people who are close to you know up-front that you are going to be trying some new approaches and to enlist them in supporting you. Even though a partner, spouse, or friend might have been telling you that you should change, when you do it requires something different in the way of a response from them. Humans are paradoxical creatures, and sometimes we prefer behavior that is "the devil we know" to something that is unfamiliar, even though we have asked for the change. This can sometimes lead to a lack of support for positive change on your part that you will find surprising and painful. If you keep important others "in the loop" from the beginning, they will have time to get used to the idea, feel included in the process, and be more likely to offer the encouragement and feedback that you need.
There are many opportunities daily to influence the people you live with or to whom you are close. Here are a few ideas to start with:
The next time you and a spouse, partner, or other family member start into a familiar conflict that usually ends in an impasse, interrupt the process by using receptive behavior (inquire, listen, or attune) to understand his or her needs, concerns, issues, or point of view.
Making things happen in your community means that you will be asked to do so again and again. Fortunately, if you are an effective influencer, you will not have to do it alone. You will have the support of people who are willing to put effort into things that you and they care about. Very few things that we care about in our communities can be accomplished alone. By using your influence skills, you will help create a network of people who will continue the important work.
Here are some possible influence opportunities in your community. You will think of many more.
The next time you are disappointed in the kind of service or response you are receiving from an organization or official in your community, use expressive influence to voice your concerns and all the influence skills at your disposal to gain others' support in changing the situation.
Influence skills, like all skills, are developed through practice, feedback, and re-practice. By finding opportunities to influence and consciously choosing and using these skills every day, your "influence muscles" will continue to grow stronger. Just as you need to cool down after exercising in the gym, you can cool down after exercising influence by reflecting on the experience. Think about what worked and what did not and decide how to take that learning forward to the next opportunity.