Enhancing Business Acumen with the Five Disciplines of Influence Intelligence
Natural leaders, well-liked executives, and successful managers have one skill in common: they lead through influence. While they may not always have direct reports, they are able to drive consensus and get work done. These folks are generally positive and congenial and often fun to be around. People follow them, look up to them, and help them achieve their goals.
Influence Management is expressed across several dimensions of business acumen: Mindset and Orientation, Communication, Interpersonal Skills and Yourself. Finding the synergies and building interconnections across these and the other dimensions of business acumen (General Business, Business and Market Environment, and Business Performance) are what enable and sustain individual success in business and in leadership roles.
In the revised seminal book on the topic, “How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age” by Dale Carnegie, we learn: “Soft skills such as compassion and empathy drive hard skills such as programming, operations, and design to a rare effectiveness. How? Soft skills link hard skills to operational productivity, organizational synergy, and commercial relevance because all require sound human commitment.”
If you’ve heard of Influence Management, you likely recognized it as a key leadership skill and one that you wanted to add to your own professional arsenal and to that of your employees, but can it be taught? How do you train teams in influence intelligence?
First, you must understand the five disciplines of influence intelligence, which are discussed in the article that follows. Then, you must assess where your employees are today and document the delta of where you want them to be. By doing this, you can focus on the areas where employees need to improve. Regularly review and monitor progress in each area with employees. Note, however, that these multifaceted disciplines must be braided together so that to achieve the ultimate intelligence of Influence Management, a person must work to master all five disciplines. One last caution for building this mastery: strive for improvement over time; in other words – strive for PROGRESS, not perfection.
The Five Disciplines of Influence Intelligence
What does it mean to engage authentically and to be one’s true self? It comes down to these core attributes:
- Follow conventional rules, but challenge rules that are unfair.
- Be trustworthy and truthful in all interactions in order to build credibility; don’t keep secrets, but don’t be a gossip either.
- Always leave a good impression by being constructive and ethical, but don’t be perceived as trying too hard.
- Listen attentively and “seek first to understand.”
To achieve this discipline, employees must be willing to commit to their work and to complete quality deliverables regularly. In the simplest terms, they must always do what they said they would do and prove they have done it. The key attributes of this discipline include:
- Build and join teams to drive important initiatives.
- Deliver on time and without excuses.
- Create a reputation for keeping promises.
This discipline can be particularly challenging in high stress environments with constant change and competing priorities. Encourage employees to focus on each of these attributes in order to positively promote their expertise and achievements:
- Be positive and cheerful – not gloomy – in both body language, verbal and written communications, even when sharing bad news. A simple and genuine smile can take people very far in this regard.
- Communicate effectively and clearly and use appropriate graphics and other visual aids to simplify and efficiently convey meaning.
- Be the person people turn to for specific domain expertise; become the “go-to person.”
- Add value by going the extra mile whenever possible.
A simple way to remember the core of this discipline is to teach employees to focus on “WE before ME” so that they can build the muscles of compromise and drive for win-win scenarios. In addition, focus on developing these attributes:
- Be generous in negotiations in order to drive progress for the best result for the most people and the biggest business benefits.
- Be assertive, but not aggressive and never passive. (Assertive people state their opinions, while still being respectful of others. Aggressive people attack or ignore others’ opinions in favor of their own. Passive people don’t state their opinions at all.)
- Use passion with diplomacy and tact in order to inspire people to action.
Relationships are at the center of all business interactions. Building effective networks takes focus, dedication and planning. Connecting with other people in a meaningful way at work requires all of the disciplines discussed so far and should also include the attributes below:
- Always make and leave a good impression.
- Be curious in engagements with other people by asking the right questions.
- Be appreciative of others’ input, feedback, contributions and efforts. Sharing a sincere “Thank You” is simple and direct.
- Build social capital by being generous and helpful.
- Make introductions to connect colleagues up, around and across your network.
To help determine where employees are performing today, it may be helpful to use an assessment scoring system for each discipline like this one. List each attribute in a table and rate employee performance, where:
1= never displays this behavior
3= occasionally displays behavior
5= usually displays this behavior
Set goals for quarterly and annual reviews, and document progress. Then share feedback and tips to help employees improve.
Dale Carnegie said: “The two highest levels of influence are achieved when (1) people follow you because of what you’ve done for them and (2) people follow you because of who you are.” Instill these five disciplines and you will see new and improved leaders emerging on your teams.
Like learning to drive a car, it takes repetition and practice to master these skills, but over time, it becomes automatic and natural. Your employees will internalize these disciplines and reach higher levels of influence intelligence. As Carnegie reminds us, “… every interaction from your first good morning to your last goodnight is an opportunity to win friends and influence others in a positive way. Those who succeed daily lead quite successful lives.”