Globally, 74 percent of women want to advance to executive leadership, according to Egon Zehnder’s Leaders & Daughters Global Survey 2017. However, the same survey found that 49 percent of respondents think women face a bigger challenge than men in being promoted into senior leadership. The drive is there, but unfortunately, so is the glass ceiling.
Although the preexisting obstacles women face when striving for leadership roles are eroding slowly, albeit too slowly, the path still feels incredibly daunting to many. The power of influence offers a way for women to gain allies, advance ideas, and earn respect from coworkers, superiors, and industry peers. Influence provides the chance to contribute, deliver expertise, and earn recognition—and helps clear a path to leadership.
Kathryn Heath, Jill Flynn, Mary Davis Holt, and Diana Faison, authors of The Influence Effect: A New Path to Power for Women Leaders, write, “… Understanding influence is mandatory for anyone who wants to sell his or her ideas and aspirations to others. Influence—the capacity to impact agendas and outcomes and bring other people on board—is ultimately the tool people use to get things done. All of us know influencers: we see them in action every day and we take note. … The truly influential individuals among us demonstrate enviable talents that fuel and sustain their success.”
However, women sometimes struggle to leverage their influence in an often male-driven workplace. But that doesn’t mean these obstacles can’t be overcome. Here are some strategies for growing your influence at work:
Be Known for Reliability
Influence doesn’t just manifest itself in your words, but also in your actions. Completing projects on time, in a quality way, and with enthusiasm and innovation shows reliability, which in turn builds your influence. Your commitment speaks volumes about you and can be just as influential as your opinions. Being known for unquestionable reliability means others can count on you for your input and to deliver in a crunch.
That said, being reliable doesn’t mean you take on every project offered. Though it might feel counterintuitive to say “no,” it actually allows you to treat your projects with care and give them the attention they need. Oftentimes, women in the workplace can feel as though taking on more work or offering help every time someone asks for it will increase their influence and make them known as someone who can handle immense responsibility. However, saying “no” when you know you can’t possibly commit to something and do it well is essential to not overextending yourself and building your credibility. Shoddy or late work because you are maxed out is simply unreliable. Be selective with the projects you take on, and don’t be afraid to say “no” in other discussions as well. Influence will be tough to exert if you are always agreeing, never offering alternative or enhanced viewpoints, or never setting yourself apart.
Be Confident as an Introvert
Here’s something that may surprise you: Quiet leaders can be just as influential as their boisterous colleagues. Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leader, writes, “The power of silence is another characteristic that can serve as a strength. Many people are not comfortable with silence and try to fill the gaps with comments that are off the cuff, whereas the comments made by the introvert can be more thoughtful.” And thoughtful can definitely turn into influential.
Whether you are introverted or the outspoken type, the key is being comfortable with yourself and your communication and leadership styles. A situation may call for you to be open, vulnerable, reserved, direct, or any number of other traits—all of which can fit into your own influence style. So being quiet isn’t a game-changer; knowing when to open up, and thereby building confidence and trust, is.
Teams are powerful mechanisms for getting things done, but can be their own worst enemy, which is why being assertive and growing influence is so crucial for women in leadership. In Faster Together: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity, Laura Stack writes, “Ironically, teamwork is both the glue binding our teams together and the oil that keeps production running smoothly (now there’s a mixed metaphor). In the best teams, everyone has a different job that contributes to the same outcome. We’re all individuals with unique experiences and skill sets, who use our capabilities, viewpoints, and opinions to keep the Team Car running at top speed. But our actions always influence our fellow team members.”
Advocating for your ideas and building a consensus within teams are essential ways to assert your influence and produce results that, in turn, increase your influence even more. But influence isn’t just about you—hearing what others have to say and building a bridge between ideas also strengthens your leadership, even while working in a team setting. Employees and colleagues who know they can come to you already are trusting your influence, and you ultimately benefit from their mutually constituted support.
The Benefits of Influence
Undoubtedly, women in leadership or seeking a move up to a managerial or executive position face unique challenges. Growing your influence offers a way to prevail over those challenges and be ready to take on the new ones that will inevitably arise.
The authors of The Influence Effect write, “Influence gets us in the game without asking us to sacrifice our values. Unlike politics, influence is not a zero-sum activity. We can be influential without taking influence away from someone else. Influence also fosters a sense of intellectual excitement. As we’ve seen throughout the book, the active pursuit of influence is a lifelong journey and it creates a path for career progress.” Growing influence furthers your career, and advancing your career grows your influence—a definite long-term win-win.