Robert Bennin’s thoughts: How to develop your portfolio of influence as a leader

Robert Bennin’s thoughts: How to develop your portfolio of influence as a leader

Have you ever shared an idea that was met with a lukewarm response, only to find the same idea welcomed with enthusiasm once shared by someone else?  Do team members ask for your permission to do things, far more than they ask for your advice? Perhaps you remind others about your position and authority far too often, to accomplish tasks? If you find any of these scenarios relatable, you likely need to grow your portfolio of influence as a leader.

Influence versus Authority

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” Kenneth Blanchard

More than ever, the ability to influence others is what sets successful leaders apart from average ones.  The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly altered work trends. A case in point is the greater shift towards matrix organisational structures.  Cross-functional, virtual work teams that are expected to be agile and flexible are now more commonplace.

In a post-pandemic world, leaders who exercise influence will be more impactful than those who rely on their authority, as team members report to more than one leader at a time and may not be present with the leader looking over their shoulders.

In business and family life, influence is sometimes confused with authority. To influence, a leader must display behaviours that others appreciate and aspire to emulate.  The ability to influence others is a skill one applies regardless of position and power, whereas authority is the valid, decision-making power assigned to a position. Authority alone does not guarantee buy-in and cooperation from team members.  When a leader’s decisions and directions are not fully accepted, or worse yet, downright rejected, a slew of problems can arise. For this reason, leaders must develop their portfolio of influence.

Four Ways to Develop Your Portfolio of Influence

” If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

Pause for a moment and take stock of every person who has positively influenced your life. You will find one common denominator amongst them all. Individuals who positively influenced you did not do so by exercising their authority. Each one of them exerted a positive influence by adding value.

Here are four ways you can add value, and grow your influence as a leader:

  1. Participation

Influential leaders actively engage in their communities. They put their shoulders to the wheel. They earn respect because they are willing to help with the day-to-day burdens of their teams and communities.  They get their jobs done and get involved in the team’s activities, displaying a sense of community. In the words of Phebe Novakovic, CEO of General Dynamics, “do the work in front of you as best as you can”. Leaders do not gain influence by sitting on the fence. They get the job done and earn the respect of their community.

  1. Provision 

Influential leaders provide for others. Whether it is by sharing advice, training and mentoring others, opening doors, or connecting others to opportunities– they add value.  They provide for those around them and create opportunities to develop others into leaders. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “A sign of a good leader is not how many followers you have but how many leaders you create.”

  1. Power of Example

Leaders are aware they are always being watched. They know their actions influence others. They do not employ a “Do as I say and not as I do” attitude. Instead, they take their responsibilities as role models seriously, constantly displaying integrity and admirable behaviour.

  1. Presence

Influential leaders are present. They are there for their families, teams, and organisations. In addition, they are pleasant to be around. They display qualities like humility, kindness, respect, and empathy. As Sean Magennis said, “Great leaders master manners. Small acts of kindness communicate respect for others, engage hearts and ultimately increase your influence. “As Maya Angelou points out, even if people forget what you said or did, they will never forget how you made them feel. Your presence is a valuable tool in developing your leadership influence.

Leadership Influence Myths

From the stay-at-home mother to the high-powered executive in a corporate office, each individual who spurs others onto greater things is a leader. Every leader can achieve higher levels of influence, however, two common myths keep many leaders from growing their portfolio of influence:

  1. Myth No 1: Leadership position determinesinfluence – the position or authority a leader carry does not determine the extent of their influence.  In every family, community, or organisation, leaders are influencing those around them for better or worse. A lack of authority is neither an impediment to positively influencing others nor is a higher authority a guarantee that a leader is influencing others effectively.
  2. Myth No 2: Leadership influence is permanent– unfortunately the influence a leader builds in one place cannot be carried to another. From the CEO moving to a new corporation, to the mid-level employee promoted into a new role, or the admired cum-laude student leaving campus and entering the working world for the first time – a leader needs to regrow their influence each time they venture into a new environment.

A Framework for Growing your Portfolio of Influence as a Leader

At this stage, it cannot be argued that a leader who seeks to be impactful, needs to be capable of influencing others effectively.  The following deliberate steps can be taken to develop one’s influence as scale:

  1. Clarify your mission – begin by understanding your personal purpose. What do you believe you are called to influence or change in your team, environment, or community? This forms the basis of your mission. Define your mission clearly, write it down and prepare to live it out. It is important to be clear and deliberate about the influence you would like to build.
  2. Assess the risks – bold aspirations come with risks. You must be aware of the sacrifices that one has to make to build influence. It may cost you a little more time and effort. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Wangari Maathai, Kwame Nkrumah, Yaa Asantewa, and countless other leaders faced great risks and made personal sacrifices. Count the cost of following your mission, develop resilience and charge forward.
  3. Execute the mission – set things in motion, begin to help others, bring others on board, offer more than expected and live out your values. This is where you begin living out your mission.
  4. Monitor your portfolio – as you proceed, regularly take stock of your portfolio of influence. Are you adding as much value as you can to those around you? Who do you need to add to your list of individuals you would like to influence positively? It is important to avoid falling into a rut. Regularly evaluating your portfolio of influence will ensure your influence on others is consistently positive, dynamic, and powerful.

A Case Study on Building Leadership Influence

The story below illustrates how one can develop leadership influence in any role. After teaching her favourite subject very well, a teacher made remarkable changes that expanded his influence in her community. She realised that there were other needs she could meet beyond being a great subject teacher.

She began taking active steps to carve out a new mission, which is not only to be a great subject teacher but to help develop her students into capable young men and women for society. This required more resources and extra effort from the teacher.

This teacher transformed her classroom approach. Instead of purely teaching her subject very well, she incorporated personal development sessions into her lessons. She helped students write their CVs, encouraged discussions on careers, researched and shared job opportunities with them and she was also very supportive of students who wanted to pursue further studies.

Soon, she was receiving countless calls from students who needed help with job interviews, counselling students, and even funding some of their business ideas. She grew her leadership influence in a very significant way. One can only imagine what the future holds for her students and how proud they will be of her leadership influence in their lives. She also has the opportunity to leverage this significant leadership influence for greater impact in the future and to possibly advance her own life interests.

The key to successful leadership lies in influence, not authority. Some key ways to grow your portfolio of influence are by participating in your community, offering provision to others, setting a good example, and having a great presence. Accelerate your leadership impact today by growing your portfolio of influence.

>>>the writer is a Certified Executive Educator and Coach. He is the Founder and Chief Learning Strategist at TEMPLE Advisory, [] a specialist leadership development, executive coaching, and strategy consulting firm focused on accelerating enterprise transformation. As an executive educator and coach, Robert assists highly capable leaders to get even better by facilitating their learning, enabling them to think strategically, and expand their capacity for personal leadership and enterprise transformation. Robert is a Marshall Goldsmith Certified Executive Coach. He is also a Leadership Subject Matter Expert on the MBA Program at the African Leadership University in Rwanda and the Convenor of the CEO Accelerator Program []




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