Leadership isn’t about tenure or title.
It’s about helping people achieve their full potential. It’s about putting people and the organization in a position to succeed. It’s about humility, service, sacrifice and impact on others.
It’s ultimately about having a compelling vision of the future and connecting others to it through influence.
Cultivating that kind of influence takes time. It demands credibility. It mandates preparedness. It requires trust. And it must be earned.
Here’s how you can lead from a position of influence.
Master the Art of Two-Way Communication
The most effective leaders are listeners.
The search for solutions can only begin when you have a deep understanding of the issue at hand.
That is an uncomfortable reality for many people — especially for organizational leaders who operate under pressure to reach resolution quickly and keep moving forward.
Without active listening, however, these “solutions” often end up bypassing or burying the root of the problems that need to be addressed.
Thankfully, the ability to listen well isn’t something you’re born with. It is a discipline to be developed, an art form that can be mastered through practice.
My own mission to become a better listener is grounded in a profound piece of wisdom from Dr. Stephen Covey: “Seek first to understand, then be understood. Leaders are listeners.”
Here are four actions to make part of your daily practice and become a more active and perceptive leader, communicator and friend.
We live in a world of constant distraction. Many of those distractions sit in the palm of your hand or the pocket of your pants. With their promise of constant connectivity, our phones pull us away from the moment and the people around us, to the point of effectively (and ironically) making us more distant than ever.
Push yourself to put the phone away—not on the table, but truly away, out of side and out of mind—and be present. Reinforce, for yourself as much as for those around you, that the space you’re holding in this moment for them is your exclusive priority.
It’s impossible to be perceptive without being receptive. In reflecting on my own habits as a listener, I realize I am sometimes guilty of focusing on what I want to say next and preparing my thoughts, rather than truly listening to the person talking.
By getting caught up in your own thoughts (even if on the surface you’re still attentive and respectful), you lose the moment and an opportunity to really absorb theirs. Stay present in the conversation. Cherish the opportunity to hear someone else out. Wait for the right moment—not the first moment—to weigh in.
That means embracing the silence, rather than seizing it as an opportunity to speak up. Conversational gaps give space for both of you to think, reflect and gather your thoughts. I’ve found that the most meaningful insights often come from moments of silence.
Ask Open-Ended and Probing Questions
Your motive in any conversation should be understanding and appreciating the other person.
Far too often, we are hyper-fixated on proving a point or getting to a particular destination, and we take conversational shortcuts to get there. Those can take the form of limited or closed-ended questions, which can make our interactions feel more like a transaction or formality.
Probing questions, by contrast, help to expand the conversation by inviting context and the processes behind a thought or opinion. The result is more profound, more valuable interactions and, ultimately, stronger relationships.
Check In and Follow Up
Hopefully, these strategies make space for conversations full of courage and vulnerability and thoughtfulness. Cherish them, and the people with whom you shared that moment.
But you also need to ensure that those moments culminate in meaningful relationships. To do so, it’s important to follow up with your own reflections and reactions, and to invite the other party to do the same.
Checking back in after 24 hours demonstrates care, compassion and concern, and creates the space for ongoing connection and mutual growth of the relationship.
Build a Culture of Trust & Psychological Safety
The experience of being truly heard, understood and appreciated solidifies trust and psychological safety. Both are essential to the way we connect and communicate, not just in individual interactions but throughout larger dynamics and entire organizations.
Trust is the willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt based on faith in their ability, integrity and benevolence. To trust those around you is to believe in the goodness of their intentions.
Psychological safety is a little more nuanced. It depends on your faith in an entire group to give you the benefit of the doubt when you take a risk. To feel psychologically safe is to be empowered to speak, act and think freely, without fear of consequence or judgment.
Influential leaders know that developing a culture where trust and psychological safety thrive is an imperative for any leader. Without them, team members feel hesitant to engage and discouraged from contributing their very best efforts and thinking. If you don’t trust the people around you, it’s almost impossible to perform at your peak capacity. And forget about enjoying the experience.
Here are two actions that support the development of high-trust, high-value relationships within your team.
Reflect on How You React to Mistakes
Cultivating a high-trust environment starts with reflecting on the way you and your organization respond to mistakes.
Are mistakes treated in the context of the team environment’s learning opportunities? Or are they treated punitively with retribution?
If the latter is true, your team’s priority will be to avoid making mistakes. Productive participation, problem solving and creative thinking go right out the window, and innovation along with them.
Avoiding failure should not be your goal. Instead, to build trust, assume people will make mistakes and focus on finding ways to recover from those mistakes quickly and learn from them.
You can’t lead from a position of influence without accountability.
As a leader, it’s your responsibility to foster a culture where everyone can rely on each other.
And that starts with you. Leaders go first. Before you set expectations for others, articulate what they can expect from you. Then deliver on those promises consistently.
When people understand what to expect from their leaders, they’re more motivated to do what it takes to help the whole team win.
Leading With Influence and Patience
The healthy relationships and work environments you need to lead from a position of influence are the result of iterative processes and regular communications.
Listening skills aren’t developed in a day. Psychological safety must be nurtured over time.
In order to lead a team and influence people, you’ll need to establish a regular cadence for team and individual meetings where these dynamics can develop mutually and organically. Spend time with people and ask about their progress, opportunities and obstacles. Remove barriers and put your people in a position to be successful.
By making time together a consistent priority, leaders can build truly connected and collaborative teams, with members who feel empowered to be their fullest and truest selves.