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The No. 1 skill for leading up, down and across

4 min read


There is one thing, one talent that matters more than all of the training, titles and corner offices combined could lend to your ability to lead. It doesn’t matter if you’re a top executive or a junior admin – it can lend the same weight.

That skill is influence, and can also be practiced, honed and refined. That’s correct — you can and must increase your influence on your own; no one can bestow it upon you.

People are attracted to leaders they can believe in. Whether you’re just starting out, or managing a team of dozens, people both above and below you want and need to see that you can inspire others and bring about positive change. No matter where you sit within an organization or in your life, you can make an impact.

So what is influence? Influence is your ability to alter or change a situation. Depending on the stage of your career, you may be able to do this by providing a welcome opinion, making certain critical things get done, or by making the final decision on moving forward with a project or initiative. Whether or not you wield power is not critical to your influence — influence can exist regardless of your position or title.

Here are the 5 traits all influential people have. Rate yourself on the following traits to determine how you can increase your influence:

  1. Reputation. Consider how others view you. A reputation takes time to build, and requires long-term cultivation. Are you consistently helpful? Have you been effective on projects or in your role over a sustained period of time? Do you usually have good ideas? Are you seen as trustworthy and reliable? Do people know what to expect from you? Never forget that it is very hard to mend a damaged reputation. Always consider your words and actions in terms of your reputation; it is a valuable asset in the world of influence.
  2. Skill set. Are you a high performer? Do people consider you extremely good at your job? Are you able to leverage those tools to take on bigger, more challenging and high profile tasks? What skills do you need to build in your job to have the tools and experience necessary to be a top achiever?
  3. Executive presence. Do you confidently take action? Can you make decisions with authority – even if they are small in the grand scheme of your organization? Can you assert yourself positively with those above you? Are people drawn to you, and want to follow your line of thinking?
  4. Likeability. Does your leadership motivate others? Do you put people at ease? Are people drawn to your presence and want to spend time with you? Do you invest time and effort in learning more about those around you, showing an interest in their lives that you can reflect back to them?
  5. Persuasion. Are you able to persuade others to follow you? Can you build consensus with those around you and encourage collaboration? The more persuasive you can be, the larger the circle of people you can influence to make things happen.

Want to be a powerful leader? Forget titles and the other trappings of authority; concentrate on building the skills above and focus on honing them. The best and most successful leaders are the ones who have mastered the skill of influence.

You do not need position or authority or power to influence others, but you need influence to gain position, authority and power in your organization. This influence assessment will show you 10 areas you must emphasize to exert your influence and get ahead at work.

Who are the most influential people you can think of? Where do they rate with the above traits? Comment below and tell me who springs to your mind as memorably influential.

Joel Garfinkle is available for speaking and training. His most popular training program for corporations is “Executive Presence: Learn the 4 Ways to Convey Confidence as a Business Leader,” which has been delivered to Oracle, Genentech, PG&E. He is the author of 300 articles on leadership and nine books, including “Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level.” Garfinkle is acknowledged as one of the top 50 executive coaches in the U.S and Global Gurus listed him 14th on the list of top 30 global coaching experts. More than 10,000 people subscribe to his Fulfillment@Work newsletter. Subscribe and you’ll receive the free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!”

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