By Essie Bester
Power and influence – the concepts are closely intertwined but one can still differentiate between them. Although the two words often conjure up thoughts of dishonest individuals who use unacceptable tactics to manipulate people and events for selfish reasons, this is not always the case. They are also often applied for the good.
The difference between power and influence
Power is the ability of individuals to bring about change or to take control of situations, events and people. This is often assigned through official titles, others see and recognise it and exercising it can result in compliance, albeit unwillingly.
Influence, on the other hand, is more subtle and sometimes imperceptible. It is the ability to sway people to your way of thinking, not because you’re controlling the situation through power, but because you have persuaded them to approach the situation in a certain way. Exercising it can lead to the granting of permission, consciously or not.
One of the best properties that you can have as a leader, is the ability to influence for the good those you lead, but it is difficult to influence people. Experts say it starts with self-improvement – to invest in your own capabilities and adaptability – a commitment to keep on growing and learning.
You can dramatically increase your influence on people:
- Offer your people opportunities to win. Create circumstances that can ensure a series of small victories that will enhance their potential. When challenges are overcome and opportunities change into victories, people admire the leader who helped them to achieve it.
- Believe in your people. You can give a person no greater empowerment and support than by looking him or her in the eyes and saying sincerely that you believe in him or her. If you believe in a person, they can achieve the impossible. And people who feel strong and motivated will appreciate you as leader.
- Serve others before yourself. The best use of your time and leadership is to serve others. You are what you do, not what you say you will do. The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.
- Trust so that you can earn trust. Experienced leaders know the best way to find out if you can trust a person, is to trust that person first. Trust is the glue of leadership and the main ingredient that keeps all relationships together. Teamwork builds trust and trust builds growth.
- Think and dream bigger for others – even bigger than they can dream for themselves. Leaders help their people to be successful. They improve their people and help them to achieve greater heights than they could ever have done on their own.
- Make real contact with people. As a leader it is your responsibility to bond with your people and to do it in such a way that you increase your own influence. When you bond with people you can begin to form relationships – and relationships are the basis of influence. If people feel that they are important to you, they will be prepared to do anything for you.
- Honour people in order to be respected. Influence does not come about instantly, it is something that grows gradually. It grows as we act consciously all the time by showing honour and receive respect in exchange.
- Lead with character. It is said that if you want to test somebody’s character, you should give them power. Leading with character means doing what is right, however difficult it may be. The example you set is very important. People will follow you if you show a strong character and integrity.
- Lift people up. Be kind-hearted and pay attention to others. It doesn’t matter who you have in your team, what matters is who they will become under you.
- Respect each other’s opinions. It could be easy for you as the leader to belittle the efforts and opinions of others if you are not careful. Never shoot down other people’s proposals. Realise that people have different opinions. Just because somebody has a different opinion than yours does not mean that he or she is wrong.
- Show empathy. People make mistakes. It should give you an opportunity to show empathy. Your task as leader is not to humiliate people who make mistakes. Your job is to encourage people to learn from their mistakes and to improve.
- Lead with authority, but allow autonomy. The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority. Leaders should be close enough to others to identify with them, but also far enough ahead to be able to motivate them.
- Lead from inside. Leaders must influence people in such a way that it builds and encourages them so that they can replicate this attitude in others.
As the leader it should be your ideal to influence others for the good by bringing out the best in them. You must try to develop their strong points and to keep them to high standards while you are completely transparent about goals and strategies.