Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to Go From a Positional Leader to an Influential Leader

If you’re in a leadership role, it’s always a good practice to assess how you got there and where you’re going. Are you satisfied with your performance as a leader, or would you like to hone your skills, and become more effective? Are the people who report to you productive and happy? Or do you feel disconnected from them?

One way to become more effective is to make the transition from being a positional leader to being an influential leader. Positional leaders are people who only lead because of their title or position. True leadership is getting people inspired because of who you are, not what job is listed on your business cards. Influential leaders can motivate through action, not title. It is important to know which type of leader you are.

Positional Leaders Often Lack the Human Touch

Positional leaders depend on their title, power or position to influence people and get them to listen to them. Because they have not developed the traits required to lead others, they are leaders in name only. They draw their importance from their job title instead of their job performance. Positional leaders simply don’t have the human touch when it comes to recognizing others’ goals, needs and motivations – and are therefore less effective, and in some cases, completely ineffective.

Influential Leaders Draw Others In

On the other hand, influential leaders are powerful, whether or not they have real power. They tend to be natural leaders, whom others go to for help, advice or just to have a question answered. Influential leaders are connectors who make those around them work harder. They tend to seek consensus, value others’ opinions and listen intently when someone is speaking. Finally, influential leaders draw people in, and are open to their ideas.

Influential leaders care about their work. Howard Schultz, founder and CEO of Starbucks returned to his position when the company began to struggle. Under his leadership, the company once again began to flourish. Schultz further exemplified influential leadership when he led over 140 top American executives to boycott contributing campaign funds to incumbents. Though these executives didn’t work for Schultz and were just as powerful in position, he was able to influence them.

Which Type of Leader Are You?

There are specific traits that can help you define your leadership style. Positional leaders tend to feel defensive when others’ opinions differ from theirs. They feel as though they should be more influential than others based on their higher position within the company. They are not always receptive to hearing ideas from lower level employees.

Influential leaders love giving credit where credit is due. They are big on collaboration and open to hearing the opinions of their team. Someone who is willing to mentor a young employee is most likely an influential leader.

To test what sort of leader you are, think back to the last time that you were complimented on the work of your team. Did you take all of the credit or praise everyone’s hard work? Positional leaders might feel that they deserve the credit simply because they were in charge. Influential leaders would feel proud of what the entire team accomplished. Fortunately, with some effort, positional leaders can develop into influential leaders.

Four Ways to Become an Influential Leader

·         Gain Respect By Giving Respect

Influential leaders give respect and are highly respected; positional leaders struggle to earn respect. So first, assess how much respect you demonstrate to others in the workplace. Do you respect your direct reports as much as you respect your boss? If not, you can be sure they know that. Focus on giving everyone the same respect you give your superiors.

·         Your Actions Speak Louder Than Your Words

Remember that your employees are watching you, even when you think they are not. Someone will notice when you take the time to say a few thoughtful words to an employee who’s having a tough time. Someone will see you holding a door open for the person behind you. Someone will most certainly notice when you cut someone off in the company parking lot. When you have the opportunity to do the right thing, by all means do it – and not just because you hope someone’s watching.

·         Build Trust By Being Responsible

Earning the trust of your employees is essential to being an influential leader. Trust is built when you clearly mean what you say, do what you say you’re going to do, and take responsibility for both – even when your words or actions turn out to be wrong.

·         Tell the Truth

Credibility is an undeniable trait of an influential leader. Whether you are selling a product, pitching a new idea, or motivating your employees to a higher level of performance, your audience needs to believe that you are telling the truth. Most people are simply bad liars – so to avoid completely losing your credibility, always tell the truth.

Make the effort to become an influential leader, and you will make it happen. You’ll earn the respect of your employees – and even more important – you’ll feel their respect. If you’ve been a positional leader thus far, the transition may take some time. Luckily, it will be well worth your effort, as you watch your team flourish under your influential leadership.

Ryan Sauer is a writer and editor for Bisk Education in association with University Alliance. He actively writes about project management and organizational leadership  with a goal of helping professionals succeed in leadership training.

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