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Master The Art of Influence

When it comes to getting your employees to do what you want, don’t discount the effect of a positive impact.

Entrepreneur

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Do you sometimes question the amount of authority you successfully exert over your employees? Do you ever think you’re not as commanding and effective as you’d like to be? If so, you’re not alone; many other entrepreneurs share similar concerns and would like to be able to increase their influence over their employees. (Influence is defined here as the process of having an impact on other people.)

My experience shows that business owners who master the use of influence are significantly more successful than those who don’t. These masters of influence inspire people to do what they want them to do. They motivate their staff towards increased productivity, profitability and achievement without incurring the typical cost of organisational repair and maintenance.

Recent research shows that the following seven methods are the most effective techniques when it comes to influencing others:

1. Rapport. This technique involves creating relationships by expressing your feelings and identifying those feelings in others. So ask your employees how they feel, how their work is progressing, what they feel are obstacles to their success, how they feel about the work and the workload they have. Then be honest and tell them how you feel about them, their work style and their productivity.

Sharing this information lets others know exactly “what the score is” and often leads to improved openness and productivity. Employees will appreciate your efforts and concerns about them and their work.

2. Teamwork. To develop a feeling that you’re all part of a team working for the same goals, you need to create a synergy. Hence, create an environment in which everyone is effectively working in a unified and co-ordinated manner with others to meet organisational goals. As you put people together in teams to solve problems or chart future courses of action, your employees will get to know each other better, can more effectively use and appreciate one another’s skills and will build on one another’s capabilities to solve problems. When the outcome is efficient and productive, you will be seen in a positive light since you were the one who created the team.

Gaining & maintaining influence over your employees involves three crucial challenges

1. Creating specific, measurable and attainable goals

2. Identifying the tools, or resources, necessary for accessing internal and external sources of influence

3. Defining and using influencing techniques

3. Logic. This technique involves managing your employees by using valid, rational reasoning. When speaking to your employees, do so carefully, in a clear, unemotional and orderly manner in order to explain issues, ideas and processes. Be sure to solicit their questions and concerns. Then explain any uncertainties and complexities in a manner that makes sense to them. If you can remain unemotional, but not unfeeling, about the goals you all need to achieve, your employees will come to regard you as a very effective leader.

4. Assertiveness. When you ask questions, make assertions and share ideas in a way that doesn’t overwhelm, embarrass or belittle your employees, they will come to admire you and value your input because you have learned to express your thoughts and feelings with due regard for others. Furthermore, your employees will usually share more of their questions and concerns with you because you will have created a safe and positive environment for them to work in.

When considering which strategy to use, you need to consider these key factors:

  • Your preferred style of leadership
  • The style and personality of the person you want to influence
  • The issue at hand
  • The specific situation
  • The location or environment in which the influence will take place

5. Aggressiveness. This is related to assertiveness and involves expressing your thoughts and feelings without due regard for others. Although this isn’t a technique to use on a daily basis, in times of emergency – when quick responses and decisions are needed, being aggressive can be seen as positive, as long as the emergency doesn’t occur often.

6. Credibility. You’ll gain respect by demonstrating your expertise using appropriate language and timely, accurate responsiveness. When you correctly respond to employee questions or concerns, when they can rely on you to follow up, when you modestly demonstrate your expertise, you easily impact others and have a very strong, positive influence on them.

7. Cultural hierarchy. Understanding and using your knowledge of “how things are done around here” is a powerful way to get others to do what you want. By reminding them what acceptable behaviour is by modelling it yourself and by acting in a manner consistent with those behaviours, employees will learn to respect your leadership abilities and be willing to follow your direction.

These seven influencing techniques can be learned and easily applied to almost any situation. At times, one strategy will be more effective than another. Sometimes, a combination of strategies is more powerful. For example, a specific strategy used to influence an employee in an employee review may not be the same one to use in a sales training class.

The secret to mastering the art of influence is to create specific, measurable and attainable goals to determine which resources you have, and then employ your techniques. The world needs influential leaders. Be one!

Building Influence

To get started, first visualise a specific, measurable and attainable task or series of tasks that, when achieved, will make you feel influential and appreciated by others. Then sit down and work out how you can transform these tasks into a series of concrete, achievable steps.

Next, identify the tools or resources you already possess as an influential or potentially influential leader. These resources are the factors that assist you in expressing influence. And don’t think you don’t have any – whether due to modesty, lack of awareness or just plain ignorance, many of you probably don’t use or aren’t even aware of the internal tools at your disposal. In other cases, you may need to borrow tools from external sources to increase your influence.

Not sure what tools you have at your disposal? Here a few examples:

  • Intelligence
  • Good judgment
  • Creativity
  • Knowledge
  • Skills
  • Assertiveness
  • Business network
  • Budget
  • Equipment
  • Past successes
  • Reputation
  • Expertise
  • Job position
  • Charisma
  • Leadership ability

Of course, no one has all these tools. But clearly, the more resources you have and the more you can amass from others, the more influential you’ll become. The strategic question now becomes: with your specific, measurable and attainable goals determined, and with your key tools in place, how can you positively influence your employees to work to their full capacity? The answer: by learning specific influencing techniques.

We all know how to yell, but this is rarely effective when it comes to exerting influence. It can impact others, but the impact is usually short-lived and negative. And negative influence often encourages retribution, resistance and decreased quality on the part of the person who was negatively influenced.

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

Leading

What A Grade 1 Sticker Business Taught Me About Business

It’s the very fundamentals that are frequently overlooked amid ambition and “blue sky thinking” – yet, these remain the most crucial element of any business.

Grant Field

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When I was a kid, my father believed that instead of getting pocket money, my brothers and I should learn how to make money. Stickers were the school craze when I was in Grade 1, and we wanted a collection for ourselves, so Dad said if we wanted to buy the stickers, we needed to make the money. So, logically, we started a sticker trading business. Dad gave us the start-up money and took us through the basics of business.

We had a cash float for purchases, and learnt about cost price, mark-up and selling price – very basic accounting. We kept recycling that money, making extra and using it to buy more stickers. Then we worked out that if we increased the mark-up, we’d make a bigger profit – so why not make the mark-up as big as possible? The obvious happened. Our prices were too high, and we lost customers.

Valuable business lesson learnt, we came back down to a mark-up that other kids were willing to pay for.

More lessons to learn

Then people came to us and asked if they could take a sticker today and pay us tomorrow. We saw no reason not to trust them. Guess what? They didn’t pay us back. We had bad debt on our hands. When we sold out of stickers, we had cash-flow issues and couldn’t buy more stock. Dad was there to help us out, though, so we received another capital injection to get back off the ground. And this time, if we did extend credit, we loaded it for the privilege of “buy now, pay later” – another lesson learnt.

We ran a proper ledger for the business, tracking our inventory, sales and profit. Even if our “bank” account was a piggy bank, we had a clear record of what was going on. When I look back on it, none of what I learnt was irrelevant.

Today, I run a leading financial services company with billions of rand running through our bank accounts. Even though the finances of the business are run on a much larger scale, the principles of business – those basic principles that we learnt trading stickers – still power our company. And when I see entrepreneurial ventures failing, or when friends come to me for advice because their business is struggling, it’s almost always because they haven’t got these basics right.

Related: Successful SA Entreps Share Their Most Valuable Business Advice Ever Received

Clarity

One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is that if you don’t fully understand how the money is being made, walk away. Whether you are dealing with stickers or financial services, the business principles should be straightforward: money coming in, money going out, and profitability.

Every day, I look at an Excel statement of my company’s forty bank accounts. Every day, I look at the cashflow, and unusual big-ticket items get a note so I know what’s going on. It’s just like that Grade 1 business, only on a bigger scale.

Entrepreneur, thwarted

Once the other kids saw the success of our sticker business, they started to want to get in on the action, so they came to market with their own competing products. At first, we were able to innovate as the competition squeezed our margins and started to impact on our profits. Eventually, the whole situation got completely out of hand and the school banned sticker trading for profit.

While I didn’t become a sticker magnate, the lessons I learnt in Grade 1 remain central to every business I am involved with – get the basics right.

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Leading

How To Handle A Director Who Always Says No

Diverse opinions on a board is a good thing — but is it boosting your business, or hindering growth and decisions?

Carl Bates

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Do you have that director on your board who always says ‘no’? Regardless of what the issue is, regardless of the context, who raises it or whether or not it is indeed a good idea, their response is either a simple ‘no’ or an elongated perspective on why they disagree? It can even feel at times that they are actively working against the company and against the board. Although they obviously do not see it that way.

Experienced directors will have multiple war stories related to this subject. Aspiring directors should be aware of how to approach these situations when they arise and how to avoid becoming the subject of such stories.

Develop a culture of trust, candour and professionalism

A board’s conduct must be characterised by trust, respect, candour, professionalism, accountability, diligence and commitment. It is the board’s collective responsibility to build this culture and to engage with one another in a productive and effective way.

Dissent should be welcomed when it is constructive and engaging. The idea of being the ‘devil’s advocate’ for the sake of it however, is not the best way to approach this. Dissent should be based on a real belief that the issue has not been fully debated or creates a real challenge for the company going forward.

If you have a director who genuinely believes a different path is right for the company, hear them out and engage in the discussion. In my experience, this often opens up an issue or changes a detail that when taken as part of the whole, improves the decision-making outcome for the board and the company.

Related: Contributing In The Boardroom

Remove the politics from the boardroom

At the heart of this issue is often politics. Politics between directors, who are also shareholders or executives. Politics between the ‘new guard’ and the ‘old.’ Regardless of the genesis, politics really do not have a place in the boardroom and directors who engage in it should be called out by the chairman or another senior director.

In local government I have heard stories of councillors who always vote ‘no,’ so that whenever something goes wrong, they can say “I told you so,” and show the public why they should be re-elected. But that is indeed politics. The boardroom is a very different space. It is private and discussions should be confidential.

Board rotation, a simple solution

While the removal of an errant director should never just be left to resolve itself, there is a simple solution that can support the easy removal of the most difficult directors. The challenge is that it requires forward planning prior to the appointment of any new director.

Directors should only ever be appointed for a predefined term, with automatic rotation at the end of that term. This does not stop you from reappointing a director for a further period. It is, however, always easier to ask someone to consider a further term than it is to tell them that their time has come and they should resign from the board.

Having a predefined term for a director essentially ensures an automatic resignation period. A simple rotation policy for directors is not just good governance, it is a practical step you can take to provide a way out of a sticky relationship.

Ultimately the board as a whole must address issues that detract from the board fulfilling its function as and when they arise. A rotation policy might provide an effective backstop. A high-performance board is one that will tackle the issue head-on.

Read next: How Diversity Drives Board Performance

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Leading

The Power Pose: Using Body Language To Lead

Use the way you move and stand and interact with others to become a better entrepreneur and leader.

Howard Feldman

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In 2012, the power pose became a global sensation. A Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy hit a staggering 46 million views and became the second most popular Ted Talk in history. The premise was simple – hold a powerful pose and it will not only affect the way you behave but it will even change your body chemistry. Since the talk, the power pose has met with heavy criticism and been labelled as nothing more than pseudoscience. Fortunately for believers, they were proven right. Amy Cuddy released further research this year and it fundamentally proves that this bold stance works exactly how she said it did back in 2012.

The power pose isn’t something that you’d adopt in a meeting or around the office but the science behind it shows how important it is to pay attention to your body language as it can fundamentally change how you are perceived.

Notice how you are noticed

People spend a lot of time reading one another’s body language and the way a person stands or holds their hands or moves can influence how others see them. It’s very natural to judge someone else’s posture, but what about the way they are judging yours? Few people look at how their body language is affecting the way people engage with them.

Related: [Quiz] How Good Are You At Reading Others In Business?

So, what are you supposed to do?

Fake it until you make it

Want to know how can you adapt to become a better leader? You can fake it.

The power pose isn’t the only way to change your mood. Research has shown that whether you laugh naturally or put on a smile and make yourself laugh, your body still releases the same levels of serotonin.

Whether you are really laughing or just pretending to laugh doesn’t matter – they both have the same impact on your demeanour.

Change how others see you

Think about the pose that every athlete adopts when they win a race or achieve something that’s been physically taxing. They hold their hands outstretched in the air. Even blind athletes hold the same pose. It’s big, it’s bold and it’s a physical manifestation of success.

Now consider the defensive pose. The tight hunched shoulders or inward curve of the spine. These poses immediately make a person look nervous, afraid and lacking in confidence. Like the porcupine curling in on itself for protection.

The same ideas apply to daily business life. While the power pose and the athlete pose are not necessarily a team activity, ensuring that you hold your body upright and with confidence means that you’re conveying an attitude of strength. You come across as confident and capable and positive. You are ready to take on anything and overcome the odds.

By contrast, if you are hunched and withdrawn, you come across as nervous and lacking in confidence and these are not the qualities you want associated with you as an entrepreneur and a leader.

Related: (Slideshow) 5 TED Talks That May Change Your Perspective on Life

Body language for entrepreneurs

  • Shake hands like a hero. The way you shake hands with someone is very significant in terms of establishing equality. Be even, be firm but don’t pull people towards you or turn their hands under your own. This makes them feel like you are trying to establish dominance.
  • Create an atmosphere of openness. Maintain eye contact, say hello to people with warmth while holding a strong posture. A warm and open greeting is essential to establishing trust.
  • Do the power pose for two minutes before any meeting or interview. This will get those chemicals stirring and make you feel confident and in charge.

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