Have you ever wondered why some people have more influence than others? It’s because they invest more “in” others. Those with leadership influence have built into others through some form of a consistent direct or indirect contribution to relationships.

Those with the greatest amount of influence almost always have the strongest relationships. My hypothesis is a rather simple one: If true leadership is about influence, then the influence is about relationships, and relationships are about the investments made into people. In today’s post, I’ll examine the ties between leadership, influence, and relationships.

You cannot be an effective leader without influence. Let me make this as simple as I can – if you’re a leader, influence needs to be a competency. The key to developing influence is understanding contacts and relationships are not synonymous. Don’t confuse a database with a sphere of influence. A database consists of information records, and a sphere of influence consists of meaningful relationships built upon a foundation of trust – a point of distinction lost upon many. Spammers and info-product salespeople add contacts to a database, while savvy professionals interested in creating influence invest into people for the purpose of creating and sustaining high-value relationships.

As business people, nothing is more valuable than the quality of your relationships. Whether you realize it or not, your success in business (and in life) will largely be dependent upon your ability to not only establish key relationships but in your ability to influence and add value to your relationships. We have all known professionals that have been smarter, more affable, better looking, possess a better CV, or are more talented than their peers, yet they never seem to rise to the top. These professionals who seem to have the whole package yet fail to grab the brass ring simply don’t understand the power of relationships – they’ve failed to invest in people.  Again, leadership isn’t about any single person, but rather a complex ecosystem of meaningful relationships.

Lest you think I’m overly mercenary in my approach, and only view people as pawns in a chess game, let me introduce you to Myatt’s golden rule of building relationships: ”Give, give, give some more, give until it hurts, and then when you have nothing left to give, you guessed it…give even more.” The best relationships are not built on the backs of others, but rather they are built by helping others succeed. It is by building into others and by assisting others in reaching their goals and objectives that you will find success. Reflect back upon your own experience and contrast the responses you’ve received when you ask for help from someone that you’ve previously provided assistance to, versus asking the same favor from a casual acquaintance that you’ve never lifted a finger to help.

When you closely examine the core characteristics of what really makes for great leadership, it’s not power, title, authority, or even technical competence that distinguishes truly great leaders. Rather it’s the ability to both earn and keep the loyalty and trust of those whom they lead that sets them apart. Put simply, Leadership is about relationships and the trust, stewardship, care, concern, service, humility, and understanding that need to occur in order to create and nurture them. If you build into those you lead, if you make them better, if you add value to their lives then you will have earned their trust and loyalty. This is the type of bond that will span positional and philosophical gaps, survive mistakes, challenges, downturns, and other obstacles that will inevitably occur.

You don’t change mindsets by being right, you do it by showing you care. Logic and reason have their place, but they rarely will overcome a strong emotional or philosophical position. Trying to cram your positional logic down the throat of others will simply leave a very bad taste in their mouths. This is a very tough lesson for many to learn, but a critical one if you take your duties, obligations, and responsibilities as a leader seriously. The best leaders are capable of aligning and unifying opposing interests for a greater good. You won’t ever become a truly successful leader until you understand a person’s need to be heard and understood is much more important than satisfying your need to impart the wisdom I’m going to make this as simple as I can…leadership is all about relationships. It’s the people – nothing more & nothing less.

Being right isn’t the goal-accomplishing the mission is. If you can only lead those who agree with you then you will have a very small sphere of influence. Stop and think about this for a moment – history is littered with powerful leaders who have fallen, failed, or who have been replaced, usurped, or betrayed. Fear doesn’t engender loyalty, respect, or trust – it breeds resentment and malcontent. A leader not first and foremost accountable to their people will eventually be held accountable by their people.

Generally speaking, there are two types of spheres of influence…those that just evolve over time by default and those that are strategically engineered. While contacts are rarely purpose-driven, relationships are highly intentional. People who are influential have spent years developing relationships spanning geographies, industries, and practice areas. They have invested both time and money developing these relationships to a high level of mutual benefit.

So why is it that most people aren’t as influential as they would like to be? The answer is that most professionals, even if they intellectually understand the benefits of what I’m espousing, just don’t do the work it takes to build an influential network. Great relationships take great amounts of effort, energy, and commitment. Think of the most successful people you’ve ever known and they will always seem to know the right person to call on in any given situation to influence or decision the needed outcome. This type of influence doesn’t just happen, rather it has taken years of painstaking effort. If you want to create a powerful sphere of influence start by taking the following ten steps:

  1. Create a Vision: Take a pause and examine where you are currently in your professional career as contrasted with where you want to go. Think about the people who could help you reach your destination more quickly and efficiently. Don’t put any artificial ceilings on your thinking – remember that almost anyone on the planet is only a few degrees of separation away from you. Be sure that your vision is based first and foremost on adding value to the lives and careers of others. Building a great relationship has little to do with what you get out of it, but everything to do with what you put into it…
  2. Take an Inventory: Once you have a clear vision of where you want to go, take a personal inventory of your contacts and relationships. See who it is that you know, but also pay attention to who they know. Review in detail each and every relationship in your network and rank them on a scale from 1 to 5 with 5 being the contacts perceived to be of the greatest value to you. Make a detailed relationship plan for each of the people that rank 3 or higher. Take a personal interest in rekindling those relationships and finding out how you can help them succeed.
  3. Participate in the Dialogue: Develop a strong core competency, and then give freely of your time and knowledge. Be visible and accessible, and don’t approach business solely based on a “what’s in it for me” attitude. Don’t be a joiner unless you can be a contributor. I belong to a number of organizations I will likely never see a paying client from, but it is through these groups I build relationships that will help me serve my clients. These relationships are only built because of the time I invest in them. Relationships don’t get built overnight, and are not built without active participation.
  4. Value Your Network: It is critical you develop a keen understanding of the following point – your network is your business. The core value of your business is not actually steeped in conventional thinking imparted to you in business school. The reality is the true intrinsic value of a business is in your network, which adds value to your products, services, brand, stakeholders, etc. A strong network = sustainability.  It’s your network that will provide you much-needed resources, influence, and leverage in both good times and bad.
  5. Focus on the Positive: Don’t waste time with those who only see problems and flaws, but cannot ever seem to create solutions. The world is full of bitter people, small thinkers, naysayers, and those who just get their kicks out of sniping from a safe distance. Remove these people from your network. Associate with energy gainers and not energy drainers. People do business with people they like, and avoid doing business with people they don’t like – it’s just that simple. Are you approachable, positive, affable, trustworthy, a person of character and integrity, or are you someone who is standoffish, pessimistic, and generally not to be trusted? Those who fall into the camp of the former as opposed to the latter will find themselves having more influence and success.  The key takeaway here is that being a jerk doesn’t lead to the creation of influence.
  6. Quantity and Quality Both Matter: Successful networking requires an understanding there needs to be a balance between quantity and quality. Well built spheres of influence are both inclusive and exclusive, and while the emphasis should always error on the side of quality, this assumes you have sufficient numbers to create leverage and scale to your networking efforts. You want to avoid at all costs the appearance of simply being in it solely for the numbers, but it is also important not to be viewed as a networking snob who doesn’t reciprocate.
  7. Influence is built upon a foundation of trust: If a person is not trusted there is a firm limit on their ability to create and use influence. People will rarely make a leap of faith for someone who hasn’t earned their trust. However, most people will gladly take a blind leap of faith for someone whom they have come to trust. Trust matters.
  8. Influence is built upon making others successful: This is oftentimes referred to as the law of reciprocity. The theory is that if you invest yourself in making someone else successful, then they, in turn, will likely be predisposed to helping you become successful. While this principle will not always pan out, in my experience it has held true across the overwhelming majority of my interactions through the years. True influence is rarely built upon the backs of others, but rather by helping others achieve their goals.
  9. Influence is most often possessed by those with authority: It is important to realize that there is a reason for the statement “the highest authority is that which is given, and rarely that which is taken.” Authority is most often given to those who display honesty, competency, empathy, expertise, and wisdom. With authority comes credibility, and with credibility comes to influence. While influence can be wielded by those without authority, it will be limited in both scope and scale. Those with the most authority will always have the most influence.
  10. Value and scarcity drive influence: Understanding the value of your position, brand, authority, resources, access to people or knowledge, and any number of other items as it relates to fulfilling the needs and desires of others creates influence. To the extent, anything under your direct or indirect control is scarce or proprietary your ability to create influence will increase significantly.

Keep in mind the purpose of developing influence is not to manipulate for personal gain, but rather to facilitate for mutual benefit. Take a sincere interest in the success of others, work on your likability factor, become adept at gaining commitment, develop your authority, secure access to things of value and/or scarcity, and your influence with others will increase.

Bottom line – engineer a relationship development plan built upon service, trust, giving, and adding value – then work the plan. Before you whine about how much time this will take, consider if you will the potential rewards at stake and ask yourself this question: Can I afford not to do this?

If you have any additional tips or advice to add to what you’ve just read, I’d love to have your feedback and input in the comments section below…