Influence. I’ve been thinking about this often over-used word for a while and wanted to take a candid look at how to establish influence, increase influence and embrace that influence for the betterment of those around you.
I’m honestly at the mid-point in my career. I’ve been coding, managing, designing, leading and creating in the technology industry for almost 25 years at this point. I started working while still in college in the 90’s. And it’s only recently that I’ve begun thinking about this notion of influence. If I could go back in time, I would have paid attention to this topic sooner.
In life, we often don’t realize the amount of this resource that we have. Influence is a resource. It’s a skill. Something that can be increased, maximized and further learned. I’ve personally been building this undocumented process for years and I think if you adopt some of these techniques in your day-to-day, it will help you in your journey.
The dictionary defines this word as this.
The capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something
Notice again the fact that it’s a resource. “The capacity”. Meaning this is something that can be grown.
Now let me be clear on this. Influence and manipulation can often be misconstrued. Please don’t mistake one’s influence or ability to influence as manipulation. In my opinion, influence is more pure. The line between the two depends upon who benefits. When one uses influence, it is to improve the outcome for others and their outcome second. When one manipulates it is to improve their outcome first and sometimes not the others at all.
The bottom line is this, never be ashamed to build your influence.
Ways to Build Influence
Below are the pieces of my secret sauce to building influence. Remember, influence can be with a small group of team members or with a massive room full of people. I don’t care much for the word followers because in life there are times to lead and times to follow. Even when you increase your influence, you must still maintain your humility and allow yourself to be influenced by those in your circle.
Let’s jump into the key areas:
- Follow the Yeses
This is something that I look at as the bedrock of your influence. Why should someone listen to you? You need to be credible. But that credibility can have some nuance to it. Let’s take a deeper look.
In an established area of expertise, I believe credibility is much easier to establish. For instance, if one is an expert at “x” then when speaking on that topic, the person will have answers to questions, expansion of thought and ideas and confidence from having worked with “x” at a deep level.
However, that last trait of confidence must still be balanced by a touch of humility. Most don’t want to be influenced by someone who lacks humility. So I really do think that confidence must be balanced with approachability.
However, if I don’t have experience with “x”, how would I go about establishing some credibility with it? My go-to pattern is to learn. Lean into learning and then draft off of those that are more experienced. Experienced practitioners of “x” will be more than happy to include you in their circle if you are willing, humble and growing in your skills with “x”.
That drafting so to speak will buoy your credibility until you can demonstrate the proficiency that elevates you into that beyond novice category.
The last part of my formula is the hardest. You’ve got to walk the walk. People are constantly watching you. Like it or not, when you speak up or move out in front, they will judge you. So if you are establishing credibility with “x”, then you need to be willing to put yourself out there and walk that walk. And trust me, the humility and confidence balance will always be inspected by those around you. Pay attention very carefully to that.
You might be thinking how do influence and Selflessness go together? Don’t those that influence do this so that they get more “followers” and “likes”? I’m sure some do, but for me, influence is about getting people to come check something out cool. See a better approach. It’s as much for their benefit as it is mine. I don’t want people to do something they don’t want to do. When we get down to Follow the Yeses you’ll see more what I mean.
Building influence in my mind is akin to building a relationship. The relationship however is often not 1:1 but more 1:M. In a relationship, when both parties are looking out for the other party, generally the needs of both are met and both are happy. There of course is more to relationships, but when building influence I believe you must be looking out for those whom you are aiming to guide.
If I go back to the “x” skill from above, if someone follows your lead and steps out to learn “x” and they have a bad experience and your response is “You just didn’t do it right” or “That doesn’t happen when I do it”, how likely are they to stick with “x” or more importantly listen to you when you are excited about “y”? You need to be there for that person or people. Long-lasting influence is increased by the influencer being a giver.
In my opinion, if you want to influence, you aren’t taking from the community or person, you are giving into that entity to improve it.
This word is almost as over-used as influence but in my process, I believe it’s a key ingredient. If you go back to how these are stacking upon each other, Credibility->Selflessness->Empathy. Remember the first time you attempted “x” and how poorly it probably went. Know one is great the first time they do anything.
I’ve been around the game of golf my entire life. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever learned. It’s also one of the most satisfying things when everything goes well on the course. Now if a new golfer was influenced by my love for Titleist equipment and made a significant investment in that gear but didn’t instantly see results, they might be a little upset at that. However, if I lean into empathy and the feelings of having been there like this person, I’m going to be selfless and do my best to help them out.
They might benefit from a custom fitting. They might need lessons. Or simply some encouragement. Truth is though, if I’m attempting to influence, I’m doing it from a position of credibility and the belief that what I am influencing is in their best interest going forward. And in general, I’ve been at the stage in their journey that they are at now. So I try as hard as possible to be empathetic. It’s not always easy, but I find it deepens that trust because again, I’m not shaping opinions based on my needs first, it’s the other person’s benefit that takes the forefront.
Follow the Yeses
This is a concept that sort of is the crux of my secret sauce. I believe knowledge should be free. What you do with that knowledge; is make money, establish patents, or do whatever. But that central, core knowledge should be available to all.
Following the Yeses is the idea that if you want to take someone from point A to point B then don’t focus on a straight line, but focus on moving directionally toward B. Go where people want to go and don’t go where you get vile resistance.
For instance, if I want someone to lean into Serverless technologies in AWS and the person has a strong aversion to EventBridge but feels really comfortable with SNS/SQS, I’m not going to push EventBridge. In most cases EventBridge is better but can you still build awesome things in SNS/SQS? Of course! But remember, Point B was Serverless, NOT EventBridge. So Follow the Yeses!
Find the wins in forward progress and then continue to be selfless and empathetic along the way in their journey. Support that journey. Be that guide, navigator or trusted advisor. That’s the kind of influence I want to build. Not the “buy or use x”, but “learn x” and “invest in x”. I don’t want one-time engagement from people. The lasting and relational engagement is what deepens the experience.
And those who know me know that knowing me is an experience.
I believe that influence in life is super important and something that we shouldn’t shy from but embrace. If I further refine into tech, technologists need to sharpen this skill because I believe that there are so many credible people on teams around the world who have so much more to contribute than they might be currently doing.
For years, I’ve almost been embarrassed by these concepts. Consider this writing the end of that embarrassment and the evolution for me into what’s next. Sometimes I’ll be a teacher. More often than not, I’ll be a student. But I encourage you if you’ve made it this far, to embrace your influence. Step into being a teacher and join the conversation.
We all get better together!