What is influence? Do you have it?

That probably sounds very simplistic to ask what influence is or if you have it, right?  Everyone influences someone, or something.  But if you are like me, your thoughts turn to the image of an old commercial that aired for years in the 80s – The crowd is chattering away, and a man walks in the room and without a word spoken the crowd goes silent.  The tag line “When EF Hutton speaks, people listen.”  EF Hutton being viewed as the preeminent influence not just to that crowd in the commercial, but to a world starved for financial guidance and financial success.

Is that influence?

Yes, and no.  Influence is defined as :

the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.

We view influence in terms of the impact on others.  In a team meeting are you taken seriously for your ideas?  At the pta do the others listen to your ideas, guidance, thoughts?  In your home does your spouse hear you out and respond to you?  Or do you feel that your words and leadership should spark change, light the world on fire, set the trend, disrupt the current course of history?   Influence can be as simple as a gentle word to a child, or as monumental as creating an economic disruption such as the new transportation system “UBER”.

Before we try to think through the components that make up influence, i thought you might find the origin of the word interesting.  Influence comes from the Middle English: from Old French, or from medieval Latin influentia ‘inflow,’ from Latin influere, from in- ‘into’ + fluere ‘to flow.’ The word originally had the general sense ‘an influx, flowing matter,’ also specifically (in astrology) ‘the flowing in of ethereal fluid (affecting human destiny).’ The sense ‘imperceptible or indirect action exerted to cause changes’ was established in Scholastic Latin by the 13th century, but not recorded in English until the late 16th century.

OK, enough of the word geek talk.  Here are a few components that contribute to how “influential” we are:

  • Are you likeable?  When you meet people do they seem interested in you and listen to you?  Like-ability is subjective, but simple things like polite manners, clean appearance and kind words can help to present you on the best possible footing.
  • Are you engaging?  Do people find it easy to talk with you, and do you project an impression of being interested in them as well?
  • Are you passionate?  Passion for your work cant be faked.  Either you love what you do or you just go through the motions.  People want to find and listen to those who live out their passion in their speech, actions and their very lives.
  • Do you convey authority?  This probably comes from a combination of knowing the subject thoroughly, and being comfortable articulating your authority.  Do people view you as an authority, or leader in an area, or on a subject?
  • Are you helpful?  Influencers are always willing to take time to offer help, tips, free nuggets of information that will help others.
  • Do people think of you as trustworthy?  Or as my mom used to say does your walk match your talk?  When you interact with people do they see you keeping your word, following through on any actions and dealing fairly and accurately with people and things?  Trust is one of the most difficult things to build in any situation, and the easiest to destroy.  Take the mantle of trust building seriously if you ever wish to influence others.
  • Are you a good listener?  Active listening is a skill that is better than gold… hearing with your ears as well as your mind and eyes are important.  Someone can say something, but their emotions, actions, body language may convey something different. Good listeners can turn on the emotional intelligence and assess and respond to not just the content but the situation.  People remember when they have been heard and value that opportunity because it is growing more rare in our day.
  • Do you offer innovation, insight, clarity?  Are you a fresh voice that cuts through the fog of confusion to clarify something?
  • Do you stay hungry for new research?  If you are always learning, searching, growing you will bring a larger amount of knowledge to the arena.  Often influencers are just a few steps ahead of the pack because they have researched everything through.
  • How are you received in a group, your family, or your work?  Influencers dont start out that way immediately.  Instead it is a slow and steady growth process.  It starts with learning the issue, subject, role, and grow with research, learning, and time.
  • Are you consistent?  The more consistent you are, the more you develop a reputation, or institutional memory.  And the more consistent you are the more you reinforce this

Influence is a combination of a multitude of factors, perceptions and thoughts.  And it seems that those we think of as idea influencers, cultural leaders, and trendsetters are those who have overcome perceived objections to who that are, and how they present themselves to the world.  They show their passion, coupled with a deep stock of knowledge, great research and a consistent passion to share what they found.

The idea of influence is popular in the modern literature.  And it is an ancient idea.  Truthfully we all influence someone in some way.  Some of us work hard to hone it, others discover it by happenstance.  Its a work in progress.