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What It Takes To Be An Influential Leader

Tell me you've had this experience. You assign someone a project, and when questioned, your first response is a cop-out version of "because I said so." I know I have. As a leader, I am not a micromanager. But when working with a tight timeline and a lot of pressure to deliver results, I must be intentional about slowing down to listen and not relying on policies or positional power if questioned. Leadership is about influencing others toward a shared goal, not coercion. Evidence suggests that frequently using positional power comes with hidden costs for the leader and the business. But the idea of creating leadership influence can be elusive to grasp conceptually and practice in a complex workplace. To enhance your leadership influence, follow these seven proven leadership strategies.

The cost of leadership coercion

Coercion is an authoritarian leadership approach that uses positional power to control employees. Here is a light-hearted look at how coercive leadership can show up in the workplace from the movie Office Space.

A lack of ability to create influence often results in leaders relying on positional power to get work done. While coercive leadership can appear effective in the short term, it leads to severe personal and professional consequences. Evidence suggests that coercive leadership reduces:

  • Organizational commitment

  • Employee motivation

  • Trust and respect

  • Productivity and profitability

  • Employee retention

How to create leadership influence

Although no single definition of leadership exists, there is broad agreement that it involves influencing others. Influence is the ability to change followers' thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. When asked to change, followers have two basic implicit or explicit questions. Can I do what is being asked? And do I want to do what I am being asked?

Influence Strategy #1: Live in Balance

Before you can create influence, you need to be living in balance. Research has demonstrated that when leaders feel exhausted or in psychological distress, they are more likely to rely on coercion.

Achieving balance with self-care is an individual path. However, relationships, rest, and work environment significantly influence physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. It ultimately doesn't matter where you start, but that you do start.

Influence Strategy #2: Be Authentic

Be open about your values and beliefs. Leaders need to be clear about what is important to them and spend time sharing with their followers. Those words aligned with the leader's actions create authenticity in the leader-follower relationship.

In addition to the usual channels of one-to-one and open-door meetings, it is essential to provide additional channels for open communications. Share results, responsibilities, ideas, opportunities for improvement, company information, and expectations clearly to everyone.

Influence Strategy #3: Be Trustworthy

Set expectations about the importance of trusting each other. Trust is fundamental to relationships. Providing help to followers before it is asked is one-way leaders can role model the importance of trust.

A widely accepted evidence-based understanding of trust is the perception of the leader's ability, purpose, integrity, and self-orientation.

  • Ability – the skills, competencies, and characteristics within a specific area.

  • Purpose – moral obligations and responsibility to demonstrate concern for others' interests.

  • Integrity – the follow through on promises in a manner that is acceptable by others.

  • Self-orientation - the ability to consider others' opinions, act with self-awareness, and lead with humility builds trust.

Influence Strategy #4: Create Shared Purpose

Instill a sense of purpose in the team. Leaders that emphasize the why of the work enable teams to persist and believe even when the work becomes difficult.

Ask others about why they chose to work here and what they valued about the company before joining. Follow up by checking in with them on if this is what they have and are experiencing on the team.

Here is a great explanation of the power of "why" by Simon Sinek.

Influence Strategy #5: Make Moral Decisions

The following are four ways leaders can demonstrate moral decision-making:

  • Integrity – Being honest, acting consistently with principles, standing up for what is right, and keeping promises.

  • Responsibility – Owning personal decisions, admitting mistakes, and showing concern for the common good.

  • Forgiveness – Pursuing excellence and letting go of self and others' mistakes, focused on what is right versus only what is wrong.

  • Compassion – Empathizing with others, empowering, actively caring for others, and committing to others' growth.

Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Influence Strategy #6: Create Teamwork

Embrace teamwork. Adopt an approach where each team player is a needed part of the overall team and important to the project's success.

  • Establish a compelling direction for the team. Teamwork can not be inspired without an understanding of where the team is headed.

  • Create a team structure that is aligned with your team's strategies and goals. Clarify team member roles and responsibilities.

  • Reward and recognize behaviors that support teamwork. Communicate the importance of teamwork regularly. Here is a short TedEx presentation on the attributes of an ideal team player.

Influence Strategy #7: Adopt An Appreciative Mindset

Champion the best of what can be. Adopt an appreciative mindset. It is not about ignoring weaknesses; instead, it is about prioritizing and pursuing understanding, reinforcing, and leveraging the best of what can be.

Leadership influence is enhanced when leaders recognize and advance ideas that leverage the best of what is within the team. Individuals and teams move in the direction that is repeatedly discussed, and questions are asked.

The answer to enhancing leadership influence is not hiding in data but in the daily patterns of behavior. What is the real challenge with enhancing your leadership influence?


Byrne, A., Dionisi, A., Barling, J., Akers, A., Robertson, J., Lys, R., Wylie, J., & Dupré, K. (2014). The depleted leader: The influence of leaders' diminished psychological resources on leadership behaviors. The Leadership Quarterly, 25(2), 344-357.

Sosik, J., & Jung, D. (2018). Full range leadership development: Pathways for people, profit, and planet (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Patterson, K., Grenny, J., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2000). Influencer. McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing.


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Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Doolittle. I'm determined to make your personal and professional goals a reality. My only question is, are you?

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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