Traits of a True Influencer
Recently, I had a client in one of my peer groups ask me about hiring an executive assistant to free up some of his time. At age 31, he had taken over his father’s company and was quickly experiencing a lot of success. He was also getting extremely busy running the company. Even though hiring an executive assistant seemed like a logical idea, he was smart enough to realize that such an arrangement could be a huge benefit or a huge hassle.
“What should I do?” he asked.
Instead of telling him what I thought, I knew that I didn’t have enough information to provide any advice. While he trusted me to give a straight answer, I started with questions: Why do you think you need one? Can you afford it? What is the level of administrative support that you need? How will this person integrate with the rest of the team?
Through the process of asking these questions, my client was able to clarify the level of administrative support he needed and essentially develop a job description that would help him organize communications, but also integrate with business operations. From there, he could determine the logical things like hours and salary.
In thinking about the traits of a true influencer, I realized through this conversation with my client that the measure of a successful influencer is really about clarity. If you can lead someone to their own conclusions with more clarity, you have the makings of a great influencer.
Ironically, to influence another person toward clarity, you should listen way more than you talk. In my peer groups, facilitators who jump to conclusions or give advice too soon don’t last long with business leaders. In fact, the best influencers know how to ask great questions and then shut up and really listen. It’s easy to try to cut to the chase, but by asking leading questions, you can actually help people talk themselves through to a great solution that is unique to them.
In order to ask the right questions, you need business experience of course, learning from the school of hard knocks as well as education. But you also need a bit of self-deprecation. Trying to be the smartest person in the room doesn’t leave a lot of space for the other person to participate. For example, I may know a lot about buying a company, but my job as an influencer is to find out how much you know about it before I start launching into a lecture.
Once I have a sense of what the person is looking for, I can maintain more of a humble position by giving advice in the form of a question. “I’m not sure if this is something, but did you ever consider trying this…?” My idea comes from any gaps I note in the other person’s thinking.
With this style of questioning, humble influencers demonstrate that they don’t assume to have all the right answers. Each situation is unique whether you are buying a company or hiring an assistant. A great influencer has enough experience to realize all the things he or she doesn’t know. The process of discovering the answer together through more conversation or research is what truly leads to clarity and the a-ha moments that help leaders move forward.
The benefit of having a great influencer in your life is to create clarity that shortens the timeline for getting what you need or want. You avoid common pitfalls by learning from the influencer’s past mistakes or successes. You avoid wasting money or putting your cash flow in jeopardy or partnering with the wrong people. Your influencer doesn’t have to be in the same industry or necessarily be the same age or gender. What really matters is the level of trust you place in the person’s experience and patience to guide you to an answer.
In the end, my goal as an influencer is to have influence over your ability to have more clarity or make better decisions as a result of our conversation. It’s also my measure of success.
Lessons on Influence
- Listen more than you talk after asking clarifying questions.
- Give your conversations enough time and patience to dig into the issues behind the request.
- Measure your effectiveness by the other person’s decisions that shorten the path to goals or rewards.
- Don’t guess at answers. Offer to do more research and respond.
- Use your bad experiences or mistakes as helpful guidance.