In order to be a successful leader it requires a wide range of time, skill and determination. One essential skill that makes leaders stand out from the crowd is being able to influence without using or abusing your position of power, writes Richard Lawton.
So what does influence mean? The dictionary definition is
- the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself:
You can learn to be an influential leader
While some leaders can do this naturally, many of us need to learn how to influence with courage, confidence and purpose to achieve that balance.
It is clear that successful leaders remain true to themselves while focusing on the values and traits of their target audience. No easy feat that’s for sure.
As Maya Angelou once said:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
For me, successful influencing is all about PRESENCE and that elusive quality called GRAVITAS.
When you’re making a pitch or entering a tricky negotiation, there are times when you need to convey that you can command the room.
Many wish for more gravitas but aren’t quite sure where that elusive quality lives.
Traits of an influential leader
Imagine watching two people in conversation; one of them keeps excessively nodding their head in agreement. The other person keeps their head pretty still. Your body language radar would tell you that the second person has the power.
We all have that radar. We all tune in to it; our original, reptile brain is highly attuned to this. Just like dogs and chooks and lions, we’re alert in each situation to where we sit in high/low-status pecking order.
Deep down in seconds we instinctively decide: ‘I trust/don’t trust you,’ or ‘I can influence you’ but for most people that’s not a conscious process.
A while ago, in another century, I trained as an actor and theatre director, and as such learned to look deeply into human behaviour and how people go about getting what they want.
I helped actors discover their ‘high status’ characters. These are some of the takeaways.
Take control of your body language
When the adrenaline is flowing, as in a stressful situation, it will make you speedy and jittery if you don’t find a way of getting it under control. This is where an understanding of how stimulating the Vagus Nerve (the second largest nerve system in your body) can be useful, for instance by sighing or long out-breaths which soothe the fight/flight impulse and activates the para sympathetic system.
A central piece of work I do with people involves stepping into the body of someone who has their feet on the ground, their belly and their breath all combined, (just as you would in martial arts.)
For example, if you’re a ‘nodder,’ here’s an antidote. Put an imaginary crown on your head, (it’s easier than it sounds.) Now hold the picture of the person in front of you steady, as you would if you were holding a camera, filming them. Focus especially on keeping their eyes in sharp focus by defining their eye colour
Small changes can make a huge difference.
Hold eye contact a little longer than you’re used to.
We’re not talking out-staring or hypnotizing here, just sending a signal that you’re focused and listening.
Remember low status people daren’t hold eye contact for long.
Holding eye contact a little longer than usual tells the other person a) they have your whole focus and b) you don’t miss much.
Slow your heart rate down in high-pressure situations
We have all been in a situation where our heart is racing or gives us that sensation that our heart is in our mouth. Believe it or not, this reaction can be controlled in most instances.
Granted, this can be a useful skill when you are waiting for your turn to make a pitch or are in a tricky negotiation.
To find out how this works, try putting one hand on your navel, prolong the in-breath and let it push the hand forward and outward, then release the out-breath like a mini sigh of relief.
Your body is very wise; just as a sigh of relief floods your nervous system with oxytocin, that blowing out can bring some relief. As if the perceived threat has passed.
Neuroscience is now showing that, while we used to believe the mind tells the body what to think and feel, the opposite is also true.
We have as many neuro-peptides and neurotransmitters in our gut as in the brain. Gut instinct is a fact.
To prove this one works, try doing the opposite. Breath quickly in and out of the upper chest with no motion down around the navel, and you’ll soon tune into the breathing pattern and emotions of someone in a panic.
If you get the knack of breathing down into your centre/core/hara, you tune into the centuries of wisdom developed by meditators and martial artists. Learn this one, and you are on your way to embodying presence and gravitas.
The good news is that the art of influencing can be trained, and no, you’re not a ‘fake’ if you’re taking conscious control of your body language.
Just as mindfulness trains us to focus inward on the subtle physical sensations that bring us into being present, charisma and influencing training tunes into those sensations with an outward focus to send out signals that increase our PRESENCE.
When we’re truly present, it can make us a force to be reckoned with. Go on, give it a go and see what results you get from it.
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