Influence is like magic--it moves even money. As an entrepreneur, there have been plenty of times when I didn't have enough money to make something happen, but I could exercise influence and shift the outcome in my direction.
No one is born with influence. You can grow it like you grow other skills, like receiving criticism, learning a new language, bringing down your golf handicap, or good parenting. Here’s how.
1. Know what you want.
This is the big one. If you don't know the outcome you want, it's hard to influence it. This is the most often missed step in building real influence--having a clear point of view.
Ask yourself, what do I want to happen--and why? At Write2Market, the public relations firm I founded, we do this for clients by writing out a position paper with the position statement, factual evidence for support of that position, and a clearly defined desired outcome.That may be overkill for you, but if you struggle with knowing what you want, try writing your position down with some bullets around why. To influence outcomes, you have to be very clear on the outcome you want to influence.
2. Be known for your no's.
Everyone wants to be liked and accepted. So when we say "no" to each other, it's resonant in the relationship. The word 'no' creates a psychic boom. That's why no is the most powerful word in your influence-building habit. Get comfortable with it.
What do you want to be known for saying ‘no’ to? I remember a few years ago, when I was president of the Atlanta Entrepreneur's Organization Chapter, there was a confident young entrepreneur known for having high standards for himself and others. I asked him to serve as our membership chair. I knew he'd set a high bar for potential new members.
People warned me I was putting a wet blanket on membership. I'm glad they noticed. We both built our influence. My influence grew with the clear signal of putting up a high bar to membership and my role was simpler because I never had to take a second glance at approving new member referrals. His influence grew with each no and every yes, as other entrepreneurs learned his standards for entrepreneurship. Today, he's one of the most successful investors in entrepreneurs in Atlanta.
3. Make vulnerability a regular public practice.
Do you like daily or weekly rhythms? Depending on how fast you want your influence to grow, pick a daily or weekly rhythm for an exercise in showing up as yourself--publicly. People are careful with allowing you to become influential in their life. That's why it's important that you let them get to know you. (You can see some of this reflected in my article on Obama's leadership style.) It's not easy when you're juggling work and family to find time to truly let your community "inside," too. Making vulnerability a regular public practice prioritizes this important component of influence building.
Here are some ways to grow your influence with a routine:
- Post a short blog on LinkedIn every week featuring something you care about, and why. I did this yesterday when I posted about what I learned in the Air Force ROTC.
- Share moments of your life on a platform you find easy to use, like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. President at Focus Brands Kat Cole, for example, does a great job of this on Facebook and Twitter.
- Write an editorial for your paper once a quarter on a topic that matters.
- Serve on a nonprofit board or community sports team that supports a cause you truly believe in.
- When people ask you to speak, do it.
- Speak up in meetings to state your point of view briefly and non defensively.
- Write a short regular blog. For years now, my favorite daily blog has been that of serial entrepreneur David Cummings. (For full disclosure, David is a recent investor in my fund, but I was reading his blog years before that.). If you don't like writing, post a podcast or even a YouTube video.
If you practice knowing what you sincerely want, saying no clearly, and publicly being your real self on a regular basis, your real influence will grow as those around you learn to rely on your clear counsel and transparent positions.