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How to develop real influence as a business leader

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A staggering 95% of leaders think that they wield more influence than they actually do, according to Stacey Hanke, a C-suite mentor and owner and founder of Stacey Hanke, Inc.

In her new book Influence Redefined: Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, Monday to Monday, Hanke offers a step-by-step method for improving communication and developing your skills in leadership influence, to best get your message across to your employees and partners.

Influence means that your messaging and body language are consistent at all times, Hanke said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re talking to,” she added. “It doesn’t matter what kind of medium you’re trying to push the message through.” Influence also means that your message leads someone to take action, even long after your interaction with them has occurred, Hanke said.

The problem? Most leaders fall into a space known as blank feedback, Hanke said. “When you climb the ladder, people start telling you what you want to hear: ‘Nice job, that was great,'” she said. “They’re not giving real, constructive, meaningful feedback. Most leaders are never seeing themselves through the eyes and ears of their listeners.”

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Many leaders also think they only need to be practicing influence before an important presentation or meeting, Hanke said. “You should be practicing how you show up every day, because the more consistent you are with your body language and your messaging, the more authentic you are,” she said. “That authenticity ties directly to people trusting you and wanting to follow you, and take on the action step that you are asking them to take.”

IT leaders tend to get caught up in their knowledge, and believe that influence is all about their technical prowess, Hanke said. “They don’t realize that you can’t be the smartest person on your topic, but if you cannot communicate in a way that is clear, brief, and has interest and passion, it doesn’t matter how smart you are,” Hanke said. “It’s not just your content, it’s about really being able to connect and engage through your behavior.”

Here are the three drivers of influence, according to Hanke:

1. Feedback

“Never accept ‘Good, nice job,'” Hanke said. Instead, prepare your audience to give you feedback. Before going into a meeting, for example, she recommends asking, “Here’s what I’m working on. Would you watch for that, and then give me feedback immediately after?” This feedback has to be constant, and focused on the behavior and the messaging, Hanke said.

2. Practice

Leaders won’t see changes to their levels of influence without constant practice, Hanke said. Take the US Open as an example: Professional golfers don’t try out new recommendations on how to swing at the event. “Instead, they are practicing deliberately, over and over,” Hanke said. “The good news is, if we are communicating 24/7, we can practice these skill sets all the time.”

3. Accountability

Find someone in your professional life who is comfortable telling you when you are ineffective, Hanke said. “I cannot improve in anything in my life, much less be influential, if I don’t have accountability partners constantly measuring my results, and keeping me honest,” Hanke said.

One simple way to begin improving your influence abilities is by recording yourself speaking, Hanke said. “If we’re not recording ourselves, getting constructive feedback, practicing our delivery skills and our content and messaging, then there’s a good chance as a leader that you’re basing your level of effectiveness off of how you feel rather than what’s fact-based,” she said.

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Image: iStockphoto/Rawpixel

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