Use the Force: The Art of Boardroom Influence

Use the Force: The Art of Boardroom Influence

One thing you learn quickly when you work in a large organization is that positional power doesn’t actually carry the weight you think it might. When you need to catalyze resources from across the organization to achieve your strategic objectives, influence becomes paramount.

Learning the art of influencing includes understanding how to influence your peers without wielding positional power. It can mean the difference between moving closer to achieving your strategic objectives and struggling for the resources and attention you need to get things done.

First and foremost, when it comes to the art of influencing, it’s important to understand where the line is between influence and manipulation. The main difference between manipulation and influence lies not in the techniques we use, but in how and why we use them.

The best analogy I can share with you from Star Wars’ Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader: they both use the Force; one for evil and the other for good.

Where these two differ significantly is in their intent. Although the two of them both had a great deal of influence, Darth Vadar used the force for self-interest, to gain power. His intention was to fool and control people into doing and believing things for his own benefit – and no one else’s. Obi-Wan used the force for good, his interests were always with teaching, helping others and building strong relationships.

So let’s focus on the positive approach and talk about how the five principles of influence will help you improve your ability to get things done through the support of others:

Intention. In each situation, know what your intention is behind wanting to influence. Be clear about how your desired outcome benefits the other person/people, the organization, and you as well. A good rule of thumb: consider the other person as a potential ally. This frames the right mindset and attitude for successful influencing, especially in a situation where you may feel nervous or unsure. It also acts as a check-in to ensure that you are not letting personal motivators, like being right, or getting your own way, get in the way of influencing.

Empathy. Place yourself in the other person’s shoes and work on understanding the issue or opportunity from their perspective. This requires you to drop the focus on what’s in it for you and place it squarely on what’s in it for them. Here are some questions you can ask to help empathize: What are their needs? What organizational forces are at work for them? What is going on for them? What common ground do we have? What drives them? Spending time considering the other person is not only key to successful influencing, but also ensures you have more than your own interests at heart.

Trust. When you are influencing others, you should be aiming for two things – achieving an outcome and strengthening the relationship. Not only is trust a key differentiator between influence and manipulation, it's also a key relationship builder. Building trust in each interaction leads to the long-term benefit of success in future situations. To put it another way, don't lose sight of the war while you're trying to win the battle.

Authenticity. Be yourself. People can tell when we aren't being real, so take a risk and be open and honest about what you are trying to accomplish. How a person feels about us is a key element of successful influencing so consistently behaving and approaching people from a place of authenticity makes you more likeable, relatable and credible and strengthens your relationship with the other person long term.

Reciprocity. The principle of reciprocity fits easily with the idea of strong ongoing relationships. While we need to consider in each instance what's in it for the other person, reciprocity in a longer-term relationship can play out over time. I am more likely to do something for you now, if I trust that you can do something for me now or down the road. If a relationship becomes unbalanced at any point, you usually start to feel it. Continuing to push your influence where reciprocity isn't strong moves us a little closer to the manipulation line.

Broken down, influence is about how people see us as individuals, how well our ideas resonate with others and how well we frame our ideas in terms of their needs and problems. Positional power in an organization can give you access to resources but influence can give you access to people's hearts and minds – the ultimate resource in becoming effective as a leader in your organization.

Mike Desjardins

Mike is a a graduate of UBC’s Sauder School of Business with a Bachelors of Commerce, Mike has spent the past 21 years transforming businesses.

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