Business Leadership Today

How Leaders Influence Others


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

How do good managers develop into true leaders? By building influence with their team members. 

Leaders are able to build high-performance teams when they have strong connections with team members that are rooted in authentic influence. 

To be a leader who inspires their team to high performance means you need to rely on more than the positional authority that a job title gives you. You need to convince those you lead to follow you, not because they have to, but because they want to.

Authenticity is key to establishing and maintaining strong, trusting relationships with employees and helps leaders build influence with those they lead because it conveys honesty, transparency, openness, and consistency. 

It also demonstrates to team members that their leaders are comfortable enough with them to show them their true selves, which provides a positive employee experience and keeps engagement high. 

But how do leaders influence others and ensure that influence is authentic, inclusive, positive, mutually beneficial, and not dependent on positional authority?

Leaders influence others in positive ways by building trust-based relationships with them, committing to their growth, maintaining authority while offering them autonomy, fostering a culture of accountability, articulating a vision that unites them with a shared sense of purpose, and valuing people over profits.

In this article, I’ll examine the ways leaders influence others in ways that support a respectful, productive work environment, foster teamwork at all levels, and create the necessary conditions for success without doing harm to team members’ well-being.

Building Trust-Based Relationships

One of the most important ways leaders influence others is by building strong connections with team members that are rooted in trust. 

Trust is vital for any team. It helps leaders establish rapport with their employees and helps employees build strong relationships with their co-workers. 

The level of trust an employee has in their leader affects how well employees perform, how productive they are, and how profitable the organization is. When there is a lack of trust, it can lead to toxic work environments, which will cause employees to leave.

A high level of trust can facilitate good communication, collaboration, and a sense of camaraderie among employees. It also helps employees engage more with their work and perform better.

Leaders build trust and forge authentic connections with team members by honing their emotional intelligence and leading with self-awareness, compassion, honesty, and transparency. 

I recently sat down with Lisa Baker, founder of Ascentim LLC, to discuss how the authentic connections and meaningful, trust-based relationships leaders have with team members create organizational success without being detrimental to their well-being.

“Building meaningful relationships with your team and others inside and outside the organization is essential,” Baker says. “Leaders need to create an inclusive environment that has an ‘open-door’ policy, so the team feels comfortable sharing their experiences. As individuals we must be willing to invest time to get to know people (and allow them to know us) on a personal level.”

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Maintaining a positive, inclusive work environment where all team members feel heard, valued, and committed to the organization’s vision helps leaders build trust and positive influence with employees in ways that motivate them to consistently perform well. 

Committing To Their Growth

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that a lack of opportunities for advancement was among the top reasons US workers quit their jobs last year. 

Employees need to build new skills and knowledge to get better at their jobs and advance. The Pew survey suggests they won’t be happy in jobs where there is no clear path to advancement.

As leaders, we need to commit to the growth of our team members if we expect them to accompany us on the journey. You can’t expect your team to grow and develop in their roles, and move into higher-level roles if you do not provide them with opportunities to grow and develop and encourage them to take advantage of these opportunities. 

Offering learning opportunities, whether it’s online or in-person training, leadership development, or tuition reimbursement, can meet employees’ growth needs and help them advance professionally. 

Leaders also help employees achieve personal growth by providing them with volunteer opportunities that incorporate community involvement into their work lives. This boosts employee morale and creates a positive working environment.

In fact, research shows that 70% of workers believe that volunteer opportunities boost morale more than company mixers, and 77% believe that volunteerism is essential to employee well-being.

Maintaining Authority While Offering Autonomy

The effectiveness of a leader depends on their ability to build influence beyond positional authority. 

As Lolly Daskal says, “The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority. Leaders must be close enough to relate to others but far enough ahead to motivate them. If you truly want people to respect you as a leader, you must prove to them they can survive and thrive even without you.”

Effective leaders do this by giving their employees autonomy. 

Increasingly, workers want more flexibility in the form of autonomy, which is also strongly tied to motivation. 

Research has shown that motivated employees are more oriented towards autonomy and independence and are more self-driven than less motivated employees.

Autonomy can vary from business to business, but the goal of giving employees autonomy, no matter the organization, is that it meets an employee’s need to work in more self-directed ways when possible and gives them the chance to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities. 

Great leaders don’t micromanage; they give their teams the tools they need to work well and then give them autonomy to reach their full potential. 

By giving workers the autonomy they crave, you are forging strong, trust-based relationships with your employees and, at the same time, encouraging employees to hold themselves accountable and take ownership. This sense of ownership will keep them motivated to do great work.

Holding Them (and Yourself) Accountable

Allowing and encouraging team members to work with autonomy helps them take accountability. As with autonomy, leaders have to give their team members the tools to hold themselves accountable. Unfortunately, leaders don’t always do this. 

According to the Partners In Leadership Workplace Accountability Study, 85% of the professionals surveyed aren’t clear on their organization’s expected results. 

The study also found that 93% of respondents weren’t able to align their work with expected results or take accountability for them, and 84% faulted leaders’ behavior as the biggest factor impacting responsibility in their organizations.

Feedback is essential for helping employees know what’s expected of them and how to achieve the goals we expect them to achieve. But how useful is the feedback we are giving our employees? 

In my recent interview with Shanda Miller, author of From Supervisor to Super Leader, we discussed how most feedback is missing a critical component—expectations.

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You can’t expect employees to take accountability for results if they aren’t being given the clarity they need to take ownership and do great work. 

Leaders are responsible for their teams and guiding them toward achieving goals. When those goals aren’t met, leaders have to be willing to acknowledge their role in the process and learn from their mistakes. 

This provides a valuable opportunity for leaders to show that they take ownership as leaders. When leaders provide this clarity through frequent feedback, they are demonstrating their own accountability for expectation-setting and inspiring their employees to hold themselves accountable for meeting expectations. 

Rather than punishing employees for not achieving expected results, focus on ensuring there is clarity in job expectations, clearly communicate the organization’s goals and the role employees play in achieving those goals, and don’t just react when teams fall short of expectations—make sure you are giving employees recognition when they do achieve the expected results. 

Articulating a Vision That Unites Them With a Shared Sense of Purpose

A vision statement is an essential part of strategic planning in any organization and provides direction, but it has to be more than just a sentence on your organization’s website. 

An organization’s vision is supported by its mission, provides purpose for employees, and gives them a goal beyond their day-to-day duties to aim for.

As the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says, vision helps us visualize our goals and work toward them: “A vision statement looks forward and creates a mental image of the ideal state that the organization wishes to achieve. It is inspirational and aspirational and should challenge employees.” 

A vision statement should be informed by these questions:

  • What problem is the organization seeking to solve?
  • Where is the organization headed?
  • If the organization achieved all its strategic goals, what would it look like a decade from now?

To engage with and perform their work well, employees need to be invested in the mission that the organization’s founders set out to achieve and committed to a vision that helps the organization achieve the mission.

This is why it’s such an important responsibility of leadership to articulate the vision. 

Libby Gill, author of The Hope-Driven Leader, says it’s not enough for leaders to know the “why”; they have to be able to convey the “why” to their team: 

“The why behind your team, division, or organization may be obvious to you, but don’t assume everyone else gets it. You were privy to what the top leaders, maybe the founders of the organization, set out to accomplish. But that doesn’t mean everybody knows where you want to be six months, or a year, or five years from now. And it’s up to the leader to share that information. And the best way to do it is to create a narrative, to create a really compelling story that is so alive and so robust that people say ‘oh I see where we are going and I see how I can connect within that.’”

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Leaders articulate a vision and reinforce it with team members by helping them see meaning in their work by connecting it to the organization’s higher purpose and recognizing the impact of their work.

A shared sense of purpose unites team members, which maximizes their efforts and creates a positive work environment that is conducive to collaboration and where all employees are working together toward achieving the vision. 

When employees feel a shared sense of purpose with their co-workers and a strong commitment to an organization’s vision, it improves morale, performance, trust, and overall job satisfaction. 

Leaders define and reinforce employees’ sense of purpose by tying it to the work employees do each day and the larger mission and vision of the organization. Leaders can help team members find purpose in their work by setting expectations that are tied to the organization’s larger vision and reflective of its culture and core values. 

When leaders are able to embed culture in their organizations through purposeful work, it also clarifies and reinforces the vision with employees in ways that generate buy-in and improve values-alignment.

Putting Others First

Leaders are more effective when they practice selfless leadership and put their team members first, and they are better at serving customers when they also serve employees.

Leaders who do this are known as servant leaders. 

The servant leader seeks not just to lead, but to serve those they lead by continually building positive influence (not positional authority) with team members and investing in their success. 

This idea is at the heart of servant leadership, according to servant leadership founder Robert Greenleaf: “The servant-leader is servant first, it begins with a natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first, as opposed to, wanting power, influence, fame, or wealth.”

In Greenleaf’s view, good leaders must first become good servants. He outlined 10 characteristics of servant leadership that help leaders both lead well and serve well, and they include listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community. 

These characteristics are conducive to building authentic relationships with team members and maintaining a harmonious work environment with a winning culture where employees are always growing and achieving goals without risking burnout, poor well-being, and job dissatisfaction.  

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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