Influence: An Essential Executive Skill

If you look at the skills most executives consider essential for success, the ability to influence underpins and enables most of the other skills.

Consider two essential executive skills: strategic thinking and leadership. CEOs and CFOs need to persuade the Board of Directors, Executive Management Committee, and major investors of the wisdom and insight of their vision and go-forward strategies. Big data and crunched numbers can’t stand on their own. C-level executives must be able to influence people to follow their lead, to go down their path.

Influence and persuasion are both essential skills, but they are not the same.

Persuasion is the ability to communicate effectively; in sum, it is the act of presenting arguments for change. The power to persuade can impact beliefs, opinions, and actions. Aristotle taught that rhetoric─the art of public speaking─involves the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.

Influence is the ability to change hearts, minds, and actions. Influence impacts actions, events and results. Change agents and visionaries need to be able to influence people. It is an essential executive skill.
Influence can be learned.

Here’s the good news: Influence is a skill that can be learned and optimized. There is an “influencing process” and there are “influencing strategies” according to “Influencer, The Power To Change Anything.” The key is to identify and focus on “vital behaviors” that can impact results and to understand core forces that drive people to do what they do.
The core forces are:

  • personal motivation
  • personal ability
  • social motivation
  • social ability
  • structural motivation
  • structural ability

Skilled influencers know intuitively or empirically that focusing on just a few “high-leverage behaviors” will have the greatest impact. To drive transformational change, leaders need to influence the behaviors of the people in their organizations who are pivotal to the success of that transformation.
Have we persuaded you that influence is an essential executive skill? Maybe not yet, so we’ll dig deeper. Stay tuned.

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