6 Proven Ways to Increase Your Influence

Kyle Nitchen
May 28, 2024By Kyle Nitchen

John C. Maxwell, in his seminal book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, provides a fundamental truth that all aspiring leaders should understand—the Law of Influence. Maxwell says:

“The true measure of leadership is influence nothing more, nothing less.”

If you do not learn this law early, you will learn it the hard way, especially in project management.

Influence is what helps leaders to achieve their goals. Without it, a leader simply cannot guide their project to successful completion.

Leadership is not determined by having a title. It doesn’t matter if you are CEO, Director, Superintendent, Project Manager, or Principal; titles do not make leaders—followers do.

Maxwell puts it clearly, “True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that cannot be mandated. It must be earned.” He suggests that the hallmark of true leadership is not found in titles or claims, but in one’s capacity to influence and attract followers.

Today, we’re focusing on that asset everyone wants more of: influence.

The most effective leaders are those who can influence others to follow their vision and work together towards a shared objective. Influence is the glue that binds a team together and helps leaders achieve their goals.

It’s one of the reasons why I named the newsletter The Influential Project Manager.

In this issue, we explore six proven habits that will earn you more influence. These are actionable strategies that you can apply immediately to expand your influence and lead more effectively.

⚡ 6 Strategies to Earn More Influence

Remember that the essence of influence is that people willingly follow your lead.

They listen to your advice and seek your wisdom, not out of obligation, but because they value your guidance.

While you might occasionally need to employ tactics like incentives, consequences, or motivational speeches, these should be the exception rather than the rule.

The less you rely on these tools, the stronger your influence becomes. Your goal is to tap into people's willpower, navigating through their hesitations and mixed feelings.

The strategies outlined below are designed to help you do just that.

#1 Define Your Leadership Style Through Authenticity.

The influence you establish should naturally flow from your unique strengths and character.

Think of a certain archetype of authority and choose one that suits you best.

Consider these familiar archetypes:

1. The Visionary: Like visionary leaders such as Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, you see what others don’t. You challenge the status quo and drive revolutionary changes in technology or thinking.

2. The Reformer: Think of figures like Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela, leaders driven by a deep desire to right wrongs and transform society.

3. The Builder: These leaders, such as Walt Disney or Sam Walton, create lasting institutions or businesses from the ground up, often pioneering new ways to engage with the world.

4. The Fixer: Practical and down-to-earth, these leaders are all about solving problems and making things work better, whether they’re running a city or a corporation.

5. The Unifier: Like Mother Teresa or Desmond Tutu, these leaders have a special talent for healing divisions and bringing people together around a common cause.

6. The Coach: This leader is a true team spirit who thrives when working with others.

There are many more archetypes out there. Recognize which one resonates with you.

Embracing a style that feels natural increases your authenticity and makes your leadership seem almost innate, as though it's woven into your DNA.

The earlier you recognize this style the better; you will have more time to hone it, to adapt to changes, and captivate those around you.

#2 Focus Outwardly.

We humans are self-absorbed by nature and spend most of our time focusing inwardly on our emotions, on our wounds, or our dreams.

You want to develop the habit of reversing this as much as possible. You can do this in three ways.

Hone Your Listening Skills
Absorb yourself in the words and nonverbal cues of others.
Train yourself to read between the lines of what people are saying.
Attune yourself to their moods and their needs, and sense what they’re missing.
Do not take people’s smiles and nods for reality but rather sense the real emotions that lie beneath.
Earn Respect
Dedicate yourself to earning people’s respect.
Shift your focus from what you believe others owe you to how you can respect and meet their unique needs.
Demonstrate your commitment to the group’s welfare, not just your own status.
Embrace Responsibility
Consider being a leader a tremendous responsibility. It is an honor to be in a leadership position. Your team is counting on you to make the right decisions.
Your primary drive should be to achieve the best outcomes for the group, not getting attention.
Absorb yourself in the work, not your ego. Feel a deep connection to the group, recognizing that your destinies are intertwined.
If you exude this attitude, people will feel it, and it will open them up to your influence.

They will be drawn to you by the simple fact that it is rare to encounter a person so sensitive to people’s moods and dedicated to achieving results.

#3 Develop Your “Third Eye.”

Most people are locked in the moment.

They are prone to overreacting and panicking, to seeing only a narrow part of the reality facing the group. They struggle to see alternative ideas or prioritize.

Leaders who stay calm and think beyond the immediate situation can tap into their ability to foresee future trends and unseen opportunities. This skill is referred to as having a "third eye."

These leaders stand out from the group, truly embodying what it means to lead.

Here’s how you can develop this skill:

Practice Detachment: Learn to separate yourself from the group’s immediate emotions. This detachment allows you to view situations more objectively, free from the influence of intense, momentary reactions.

Elevate Your Perspective: Regularly force yourself to step back and consider the bigger picture. This broader view helps you see beyond partisan opinions and consider multiple perspectives, including those of outsiders or even adversaries.

Explore Alternatives: Open your mind to various possibilities and scenarios, particularly those that might unfold adversely. This will enhance your ability to anticipate potential challenges and opportunities.

Plan Strategically: Once you have a clear vision of the potential path, work backwards to the present. Develop a flexible and thoughtful plan that bridges the gap between today and your future. The thoroughness of your planning will not only boost your confidence but will also inspire confidence in others.

This ability to think ahead and strategize effectively will make your leadership both effective and respected.

#4 Lead By Example.

To encourage discipline in others, you must first be disciplined yourself. To lead others, you must first lead yourself.

As the leader, you must be seen working as hard as or even harder than everyone else.

You set the highest standards for yourself. If there are sacrifices that need to be made, you are the first to make them for the good of the group.

This sets the proper tone. Your team will naturally strive to meet your standards and earn your approval. They will adopt your values and model your behavior without the need for force or constant reminders. This desire to live up to your example is far more effective than any directive you could give.

If team members fail to meet the high standards set, there should be firm and clear consequences. People always respect strength in their leaders, as long as it does not stir up fears of the abuse of power.

If being tough doesn’t come naturally to you, develop it, or you will not last very long in the position. You will always have plenty of time to reveal that softer, kinder side that is really you, but if you start soft, you may signal that you are a pushover.

#5 Stir Conflicting Emotions.

Most people are too predictable.

To mix well in social situations, they assume a persona that is consistent - cheerful, pleasing, bold, sensitive. They try to hide other qualities that they are afraid to show.

Be Mysterious
As the leader, you want to be more mysterious to increase your influence. By showing qualities that are slightly contrary, you cause people to pause in their instant categorizations and to think about who you really are. The more they think about you, the larger and more influential your presence.

For example, if you're known for your kindness, occasionally demonstrate firmness to prevent being taken for granted. This complex persona was a key aspect of Martin Luther King Jr.'s compelling leadership.

Balance Your Presence
You must learn to balance presence and absence. Being too accessible can make you appear ordinary, but being too distant can make you unrelatable. Strive for a balance that keeps your presence valued and impactful. Make your appearances count.

Limit Your Speech
Excessive talking can signify insecurity, while selective silence can project strength and control. When you do speak, your words will carry more weight.

Additionally, if you make a mistake, do not over explain or over apologize. Make it clear you accept responsibility and are accountable for any failures, and then you move on.

Avoid appearing defensive and whiny if attacked. You are above that.

#6 Never Appear to Take, Always to Give.

Leaders must avoid the perception that they are taking something people believe is rightfully theirs—be it money, rights, privileges, or personal time.

These actions can create insecurity and damage your credibility, causing people to doubt your intentions and question your leadership. They might wonder, "What more will he take? Is he abusing his power? Has he been fooling us all along?"

If sacrifices are necessary, lead by example and make sure they’re meaningful, not just symbolic.

- Frame any necessary losses as temporary, and clearly communicate how and when these will be restored.

- Position yourself to consistently offer more than you take, which builds trust and loyalty.

Related to this, avoid over-promising. While it might be tempting to make grand promises in the moment, people remember these commitments vividly. Failing to fulfill them not only hurts your credibility but also feels like a breach of trust to your team.

Make sure you can deliver on your commitments to maintain your influence and preserve the goodwill you’ve established.

Final Thoughts

Leadership styles may change with the times, but one constant remains: the complex relationship between people and authority.

People always have mixed feelings about those in power.

- They want to be led but also want to be free.
- They want to be protected and enjoy success without making sacrifices.
- They both admire a leader one moment and resent them the next.

As a leader, you’re always on uncertain ground. This is simply human nature. If you want to lead, you must master these dynamics as soon as possible.

As part of this process, reflect on the impact you have on your team:

Are you often arguing and facing resistance to your ideas and projects?

Do people nod as they listen to your advice and then do the opposite?

For those new to leadership, these challenges are common. Initially, ideas from those lower in the hierarchy are often undervalued; the same ideas from a boss might be received differently.

But sometimes it could stem from your own actions. If you’re finding resistance, it might be a sign that you’re breaking some of the principles described above.

Put these into practice and let me know how it goes!

Until next week,

Kyle Nitchen

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