Influence is power. If you can influence others, you have power over them because you can change their behaviour. People will do things for you because they like and trust you, things that they will not do for money or status.
You need influence to manage employees, convince your boss, get the support of your peers, guide your children, persuade your spouse, and lead yourself.
1. Pursue integrity, not power
Power is a little like happiness. You can want it for its own sake, but that is not how it is gotten. Happiness is a by-product of a life filled with purpose and love. Power is a by-product of character and integrity.
Integrity means having values and living according to those values. It’s surprising how many people claim to have certain values and yet their actions tell you otherwise. For example, most people will tell you that money is not important, and yet spend their whole lives working for money instead of chasing their dreams. Or that charity is important, yet give nothing to charity from their monthly paychecks.
Decide what kind of person you want to be. Have a clear set of values and put them in writing, like a personal creed. Live by these values every single minute of every single day, so that you can look yourself in the mirror and hold your head high knowing that you stood for something today. You will feel an enormous sense of power, because your character is whole.
This is the kind of integrity that people feel when they are around you, without you having to speak a single word. Your entire being sends vibes that can be felt by others. People will somehow know that they can trust you.
2. Be an example
To have influence, you have to be congruent. Your words and your deeds have to match. If you tell your children that they need discipline to succeed in life, yet they see you rushing to work every morning because you are late, they will grow up not believing in discipline or not believing in you or both. The fastest way to lose influence is to say one thing and do another. You have absolutely no credibility.
Walking the talk is the surest way to increase your influence. People around you will notice you wordlessly picking up some litter on the ground and throwing it into the nearest rubbish bin. This simple action will speak louder than hours of you lecturing on the need to preserve the environment. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”
3. Make others feel good about themselves
Your influence increases in inverse proportion to your self-importance. What this means is that if you seek attention and approval from others, you have very little influence over them even if it feels good at the time. In fact, they have enormous power over you because a simple word or gesture and affect your mood for the entire day.
When you have a healthy self-esteem and do not need to feel important and noticed all the time, you are free to notice others and make them feel important. This does not mean flattering them. Flattery does not work because people are smart and can sense when you are trying too hard and not being sincere. You make people feel important simply by noticing them. Greet everybody you know by name. Smile at strangers. Ask “how are you today?” then wait for the answer and really listen. Silently wish the best for them when you say goodbye; they won’t hear it but they will feel it.
4. Know when to use your influence
Influence is like a bank account. You need to constantly make deposits into it to make it grow. And if you use too much of it, the account empties. Use your influence sparingly. Don’t waste it on things that don’t matter. Don’t ask for favours when you can do it yourself. Don’t use it for your selfish purposes when it doesn’t benefit the other person.
If you have influence over someone, you won’t need to look for the person to tell him what to do. That person will come to you for perspective and advice. This is the right time to exercise your influence. If you feel the need to approach the person, be very clear and honest about what your motives are. Unsolicited advice is seldom welcome and almost always never followed. If you have the other person’s interest and feelings at heart, wait for her to approach you instead.
5. Remain humble
True power is humbling for a person of sound character. When you realise that you have influence over another person, you will feel an enormous responsibility to use your influence for the other person’s good. You will weigh your words carefully before speaking, because you know that the other person will likely follow your advice and you could change her life for better or worse depending on how wisely you guide her.
If you find that your power is going to your head, as it sometimes will because you’re only human, get it under control. The moment you cherish power for its own sake, you have lost power over yourself and will quickly lose influence with others. Remember that everything you have is a gift from a higher power, and is merely on loan to you while you live in this world. Understand that to a little sparrow flying high above, you are just another little speck on the ground. Stay humble.
With integrity, wisdom, and humility, you can change the world.