Influence is the essence of leadership. Leaders influence others to achieve a predetermined goal.
They influence the outcome of a process by providing guidance, support, motivation, inspiration and direction to those they collaborate with.
Leadership ends when a leader fails to influence because without this critical factor, delivering on his mandate of effecting a change becomes extremely difficult. Leaders are agents of change and to cause the kind of change they want, they must be able to wield some level of influence.
Influence is not synonymous to charisma. Though being charismatic could be helpful to a leader, if a leader solely relies on charisma as his tool of influence, he will record more failure than success.
What is influence?
Influence is the ability to affect others’ thoughts and actions. It is the ability to make people do what they might not want to do ordinarily. Influence is the ability of a leader to mould an individual in the shape he wants to achieve his purpose.
Influence can be put to good or bad use depending on who is wielding it. Between 1933 and 1945, Adolf Hitler influenced the killing of six million Jews living in Europe because he wanted to exterminate the Jewish race, which he referred to as the parasitic vermin, and establish the Aryan race as the superior one.
On the other hand, Mahatma Gandhi influenced the people of India to embrace nonviolent civil disobedience in their struggle for independence from Britain.
Influence becomes effective when a leader is able to ensure buy-in from the people.
Influence and compliance
Influence and compliance are cousins because they are meant to achieve a similar purpose; a pre-determined objective. The difference, however, is that while influence is ensured, signifying voluntariness on the part of the influenced, compliance is enforced, a resort to force by a superior. Leaders ordinarily rely on motivation to influence their people but when a leader resorts to the use of force most of the time, or drive his people to get the job done, he has lost his leadership because leaders don’t drive; only bosses do.
Source of influence
If influence is this important how does a leader get it?
Influence derives mainly from respect. People allow themselves to be influenced by those they respect. Influence should not be taken lightly by leaders because he who is influenced by another has, in a way, subjugated his will to that of the influencer. It is akin to the clay submitting itself to the potter to do what he likes with it. The influenced voluntarily allows the influencer to decide his fate and shape his destiny.
So, influence is a product of respect. People only allow themselves to be influenced by those they hold in high esteem.
How do people gain esteem?
People gain esteem through a number of means.
Position of authority
A position of authority often confers respect on the incumbent. An elected political functionary or a company chief executive, by virtue of the position occupied, enjoys some measure of respect. People defer to him because of the realization that the position occupied has some inherent powers that could be deployed for the good of the state or the organization. Sometimes even when the occupier of a position conducts himself in an untoward manner people are reluctant to disrespect him because of their respect for the office.
Service is key to influence. The right perspective is to see every position as an opportunity to serve. Those who wield the greatest level of influence are those who serve the most. Mahatma Gandhi was not wealthy, had no official title, and controlled no army, yet the people followed him even at the risk of losing their lives. The people took his suggestions as instructions and they pandered to his wishes. As a matter of fact, he was deified.
Why was he so influential?
Gandhi’s life was dedicated to serving the people. For everyone who yearns for others’ respect and hope to gain influence as a consequence, service is sine qua non.
Companies that render excellent services enjoy the respect of the market and as a result wield considerable influence. That is why they are able to shape the way we live. Facebook, Twitter, Jumia, Konga, Nokia, Microsoft, Nigerian Tribune, Dangote, DSTv, Mr. Biggs, Sweet Sensation and others have great influence over their customers to the extent that they are utterly dependent on these companies. This is because the companies offer services that the customers find irresistible.
Rendering services that are above par is a route to gaining respect.
People respect those who possess uncommon skills. Football stars, singers, dancers, actors, painters, athletes etc all have their fan bases. These are people who hold them in awe because of their uncommon skills. These stars are idolized by their fans. Hence, they wield awesome influence over their followers. The influence is so great that fans often pattern their lives after their idols’.
But being idolized is not the preserve of those who ply their talents, others who demonstrate uncommon skills enjoy the same honour. Professor Wole Soyinka, Africa’s first Nobel laureate in Literature, is held in awe by many people. Steve Jobs, who gave the world the iPhone series, was respected throughout the world. Colleagues respect those who they perceive as being exceptional on their jobs. Students adore lecturers they find outstanding.
Individuals with inspiring personalities also enjoy a lot of respect from others. Figures like Malala Yousafzai, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Moshood Abiola and Nelson Mandela fall into this category. By the virtue of their uncommon experiences, they command respect that is cross-cultural.
Other people in this category are religious leaders. They are held in awe by their followers because they are seen as possessing qualities that are rare in human beings. Pastor Enoch Adeboye, Sheik Gumi and a host of other religious leaders are idolized by their followers and, consequently, the religious leaders are in a position to influence the followers.
Why leaders lose influence
A leader’s influence is either permanent or transient depending on how he handles himself and his people. While most followers will want to hold their respect for their leaders in perpetuity, more often than not, occasions arise that force them to review their perception of the leaders.
Leaders lose their influence for a number of reasons. Prominent among them are the following.
Leaders focus on themselves
Leadership is about the led, not the leader. Many leaders start at this point but sooner or later, shift their focus from the people to themselves. A leader who focuses on the people serves the people; he who focuses on himself is concerned about feathering his own nest. Service is what connects the leader to the people. Service is what binds the leader to the people. Followers respect leaders who serve them because of the law of reciprocity. The law says that everyone who has enjoyed a good deed feels indebted to whoever made it possible and looks forward to an opportunity to reciprocate.
So, by serving the people, what the leader does invariably is that he makes the people indebted to him. This is why he is held in awe. But the moment a leader abandons his service to the people and concentrates on serving himself, he loses his estimation in the reckoning of the people. Thus, he loses his influence over them because the cord which connects them is cut.
Failure to model
Leaders are deemed as models because they give the rest something to aspire to. This is very critical. Great leaders across the world are held in awe and respected by the rest because there is something in them that others hope to possess. The moment a leader is found out to have lost what held him bound to the people, he loses the people’s respect and by extension the influence he wields over them.
Allied to this is the issue of integrity. Integrity has two components; reputation and character. To be a person of integrity, an individual’s reputation and character must be the same. That means there must not be a difference between who the individual is in reality and who he is reputed to be. The moment there is a discrepancy between a leader’s reputation and character, he begins to lose his respect and influence because he is no longer who they had thought he was; he has stopped living in line with his conviction. He is therefore no longer worthy of the people’s respect. Neither does he deserve to influence them.
Loss of competence
A leader who loses his competence loses his edge. Competence is vital in leadership because one of the fundamental functions of a leader is to provide solutions. A leader’s ability to provide solutions is anchored on his competence. If people want solutions and all a leader can offer is explanation, the air of reverence around him begins to peter out.
A leader must never put himself in a position that would show him as being bereft of ideas or solutions to the people’s agitations. The basic assumption is that a leader knows the direction and possesses superior knowledge. That is one of the reasons he leads and others follow. The moment he shows that he does not know the way, he loses the respect hitherto enjoyed from the people and strips himself of the privilege of influencing those who had believed in his leadership.
Continuous self improvement is critical to leadership. There is no information or knowledge that a leader needs that is not available somewhere. It is his responsibility to get the information which would improve the lot of his people.
Blame more than praise
A leader stands the risk of losing his people’s respect if he turns himself to an unrelenting fault finder. Among other things, a leader is a mentor. A mentor pulls up, he does not push down. So, a leader is supposed to help bring out the best in those who look up to him for leadership. But when a leader fails to connect with the latent ability in the follower but rather plays up his foibles, he fails the follower and he begins to lose the prestige enjoyed with him.
Mentoring is a debt leaders owe their followers. Failure to provide this robs them of the followers’ respect and the right to influence them.