Why Successful Business Leaders Assert Influence, Not Control

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Caroline Kennedy (main photo), author of Lead Beyond 2030: The Nine Skills You Need to Intensify Your Leadership Impact, is an accomplished CEO and global thought leader on business and leadership. In this guest post, Kennedy argues a true leader understands the difference between control and influence…

KPMG’s “Issues Facing Australian Leaders 2020” listed leadership capability as one of the top five, increasing in importance from the previous year, with a particular emphasis on accountability. The statistics show we are struggling.

At last realisation is spreading through the corporate world that goals can’t be achieved purely through directives. They have discovered that people are their most important resource. They perform better if their basic human needs are met. Needs like being heard, being safe, being connected and being empowered and accountable. This realisation has changed what organisations need from their leaders. Leaders need to influence, not control their teams.

Control or influence?

What’s the difference between influence and control? Control is directive and imposes decisions on people. It’s about power. People are motivated to follow the directions because they’re afraid of the consequence if they don’t.

Influence is a whole different ball game. Influence is about guiding people’s thinking towards the best course of action to create a win-win situation. Influential leaders change people’s behaviour by changing their mindset. They’re not told what to do; they do it by choice.

The control approach isn’t working.

Melbourne Uni’s Study of Australian Leadership reveals how poorly the traditional approach to leadership is working.

  • 72% of Australian workers leaving their jobs due to poor leadership
  • Leaders are considered average by their employees, with an overall rating of 5.6/10
  • Around one-third of Australian workplaces underperform against their sales targets.

Why is now the right time to change leadership style?

If you’re a leader, your career is on the line. The economy is slowing, productivity has dropped, job security is disappearing, and workplace loyalty has been replaced by job hunting for security. COVID-19 has intensified these things. We are in a phase of increased uncertainty and ambiguity, disruption and change, and influential leadership matters more than ever.

Now that organisations recognise the need to take care of their people, the responsibility for people-care and for boosting productivity lies on the shoulders of every leader. The research shows us that most are not up to the job.

Why influence creates performance impact.

Enlightened leaders realise they don’t work alone – they know they’re only as good as the team around them. They need the support and commitment of each member of the team to get the best results possible. That can only be done through influence.

You can’t tell people what to do. You need them to care about it and want to be involved. You need them to be engaged with you as well as they work. You want them to work with you to reach shared outcomes and build a stronger, more accountable, productive business.

Lisa Cash Hanson says, “Leadership is the ability to guide others without force into a direction or decision that leaves them still feeling empowered and accomplished.” That’s a great description of influence. To be a successful influencer, you must appeal to both the head and the heart of those you are trying to influence. This is how people become re-engaged and strive to deliver their best performance.

Influence is a neuroscience approach which considers humans behaviours and actions to meet the human need to be listened to, consulted, included, given responsibility and respect, and to be part of a team/social group. That’s why it works.

The bottom line.

According to Gallup research, “companies with engaged employees outperform others by 202 percent.” Clever businesses have achieved sustainable growth, solid market performance and innovative change by operating with empathy and consideration for their people. They achieved it through their influential leaders.

Globally, there’s a world shortage of leaders with the ability to influence. They’re working with their brains but not their hearts. They’re working with tradition and not with a human-centric approach.

It’s time to work with people, not just processes. You can get much more done – and done better – through influence. If you want to be the leader who gets results and who has a positive impact on people and performance, start polishing your influencing skills. Business needs you. WE need you.

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Caroline Kennedy

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