Influencing Skills: Your Big Differentiator.

What sets a high performing, high-potential emerging leader apart from her peers?

I’ve heard people say it’s communication skills or leadership presence. Others have said it’s having influential sponsors or the ability to deliver bottom-line business results. While I agree that all of these are all important components of what it takes to stand out in a sea of ambitious peers. But if I had to choose one attribute above all the others, I’d say it’s the ability to influence.

As one senior leader said to me last year when I was collecting quotes for a leadership communication webinar, you need to “Make sh*t happen.” And making that stuff happen requires getting others on board with you, or you’ll only ever achieve what you can accomplish through your own effort, and that’s not going to convince anyone that you’re a leader. You’ll need influencing skills to achieve something greater than you can accomplish alone.

If you want to make a difference, stand out in your company, and accomplish amazing things in your career, influencing skills are the big differentiator. If you have energy and ambition to make sh*t happen at work every day you’ll need to engage, inspire and motivate others to collaborate with you. Most of the time those others won’t be your direct reports.

Try this exercise.

1) Think about something you’re up to at work that’s a goal or a challenge that you’re currently working on. I recommend choosing one that’s bigger than you could achieve on your own.

2) Now identify the stakeholders you’ll need to influence in order to be successful.

In my role my primary goal (and challenge) every day is influencing the decision-makers who contact me to enquire about my speaking services. Whether they’re a HR generalist or diversity specialist tasked with organizing her company’s women’s network event, or the executive sponsor overseeing an initiative to advance more women into leadership, that individual is my stakeholder and I need to convince them that I’m the best speaker to hire for their event.

If I gain their approval, we get to play! I get to travel to their site, work with their women employees, and deliver a kick-ass presentation. Ultimately, those employees get to walk away with an action plan to advance their careers, and the stakeholder gets the accolades from organizing an amazing event. It’s a win-win-win.

But if can’t influence the stakeholder’s decision I stay home and none of that magic happens.

Influence… and the magic happens.

Who are your stakeholders? If you’re a corporate employee, your stakeholder might be your boss, your boss’s boss, or your customer. Or it might be a peer in your team or a counterpart in another department whose agreement or collaboration is essential to making something great happen.

Regardless of who your stakeholders are, here’s the most important thing about influencing: It’s all about building relationships.

Think about how hard it is to influence someone when you don’t have a relationship established with that person.

• First, you’ll need to get time on their calendar. (As I learned this week, in fast-moving organizations that have a strong focus on execution, this can be next to impossible!)

• Next, when you get that meeting and you’re face to face with that person, you’ll need to make your pitch in a way that gains and retains their attention.

• You’ll need to anticipate their top priorities, and frame your proposal in such a way that it aligns with their interests.

• You’ll need to find the right balance of giving them detailed data vs. an executive summary.

• You’ll need to uncover any objections they have, overcome those concerns, and bring them around to your way of thinking.

• And finally, you’ll need to gain their agreement, close “the sale” and entice them to take action.

If all of that sounds exhausting, it’s because that’s what it takes to influence someone with whom you haven’t yet established a strong working relationship.

The key to effective (and much, much easier) influencing is to establish the relationship first.

Now imagine that you need to influence someone with whom you already have a great working relationship. They know you, trust you, and have seen the caliber of work you’ve delivered in the past.

Think about your best friend at work. What would it take to get their assistance with something that’s important to you? It might be as simple as asking.

Here’s the bottom line:

If you want to be a leader, you need to develop influencing skills. And if you want to have influence, you need to build great relationships. Not only with your best friend at work, but with all of your stakeholders— the ones you work with today, and the ones you’d like to work with in future.

Create a strategic networking plan.

Make a list of everyone you’d like to build stronger relationships with: In your team, in your management chain, across your organization, and with the other organizations you partner with. For each name, come up with a specific action you’ll take to build that relationship.

Take a little bit of time each day to build those relationships—but not in a calculated way: It has to be authentic. Be of service to everyone you meet. Support them, and facilitate their success. And, when the time is right, invite them to collaborate with you. That’s how the magic happens.

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Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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