Four of our workplace experts have weighed in on this question to give you four points of view. For other editions of our 360° Answers series, please click here.
First of all, kudos to you for thinking this is important, because it most certainly is. As I am fond of saying, you could be the smartest, most talented employee your company has ever hired, but if the powers-that-be aren't aware of your contributions or don't care about them, it won't matter.
Raising your influence mainly involves going out of your way to participate in projects - either in your division or company-wide - that are considered strategically significant. You can find out what these are by paying attention to what your leaders are talking about in their internal and external communications and what is discussed in the company’s annual report.
Use these opportunities to engage with various higher-ups, learn what's most critical to their success, and develop an action plan to help them achieve that success. It also won’t hurt to establish personal rapport with these individuals, as every business book in the world will tell you that we want to work more with people we like.
Take advantage of any chance to stand-out on a visible project, and when you do, alert the leadership team to your positive results via email or in person at a company meeting, for instance. Remember that you only get three seconds to make a solid first impression and your influence will depend at least in part on how you speak, dress, and otherwise conduct yourself.
Make every effort to build your executive presence, honing your poise, confidence, and decisiveness. Upgrade your wardrobe so you’re dressing more like the CEO than a minion, and work on sharpening your speaking and other interpersonal skills via a course like Dale Carnegie.
The key to gaining influence is to take advantage of every interaction you have, whether it’s with a colleague, a customer or a boss. This doesn’t mean, however, that you take advantage of those interactions to strong-arm someone into doing something you want, or use it just an opportunity to toot your own horn. Rather, you become influential by making others feel like each time they interact with you, they get something from it. Maybe you’re able to connect them with important research that you’ve taken the time to dig up for their project, or introduce them to new contacts.
By coming through for others and keeping commitments you make to them, you will gain their trust. Then, they also become someone you can turn to and, for example, help get you assigned to important projects or support you getting a promotion. At the same time, by helping others when you can (maybe you’re a whiz with an Excel spreadsheet), they feel more inclined to share their expertise that can help you become more influential, like coaching you in how to persuade others or negotiate better.
The most important thing to do to raise your influence is to build trust. Trust has two components, and you will need both: credibility and likeability.
With likeability, people trust you as a person and respect you for your integrity. They know your intentions, and feel comfortable taking a risk on your behalf. With this interpersonal piece of influence, it means when you make a statement, it is taken at face value.
Credibility is the trust that people have for your work. This includes your professionalism, your current capability, as well as your potential contributions. This is built over time and grows exponentially when you are well-networked.
I agree with others about the importance of credibility and especially with Alexandra’s point about participating in projects that your company higher-ups consider strategically significant. Relatedly, simply paying attention to what your company leaders prioritize and what they’re less concerned about will give you valuable information that should shape your own thinking. I’ve seen senior leaders take notice of relatively junior people simply because the junior people really got what the leaders were trying to do, in a context where others weren’t quite on board yet.
One more thing that’s important: Be known for keeping your ego and emotions out of things as much as possible and for considering things (projects, ideas, new hires, or other changes) from the perspective of what makes sense for the company, rather than what might suit your personal agenda. That approach is rare enough that it will get noticed and earn you serious respect – and it’s also increasingly essential as you move up the ladder.
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