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Influence-Ability: Being The Leader People Want to Follow

Shawn, HR Manager, recently was chosen to lead a special project to streamline all HR processes. Members of the project team include fellow managers throughout the company, including two managers in remote locations.

“This project is a nightmare,” Shawn complained. “My team members ignore my e-mails. They ‘forget’ team meetings, or, worse still, they come unprepared. They seem more interested in their favorite sports team results than they do in getting this work done. I can’t make them do anything I ask! Something’s got to give, or we won’t meet our report deadline. And my yearly bonus is riding on our success!”

Perhaps you can identify with Shawn. Teams are formed and given a list of deliverables. Team members must complete their regular job duties while juggling the project tasks. And the person who is given the responsibility of the project often has little authority to complete the assignment. Effective use of personal influence is essential to success.

Here are two steps Shawn—and you—can take to be influential with co-workers:


First, think about each individual co-worker. Identify his/her style of interaction.

  • What clues can you gather from body language? Does the person gesture broadly while talking? Is he fidgety? Does she bite her nails? Does he sit with hands and legs crossed? From such clues comes an awareness of that person’s comfort level with working as a part of a group.
  • What about speech patterns? Does he speak softly or in a loud, booming voice?
  • How does she begin meetings? Does she dive right into the business at hand, or does he take time for small talk, sports, family, etc.?
  • Does he want details, charts and graphs, or is she satisfied with broad outlines, outcomes and results?


Once you have gathered information about other team members, you now have a choice. You can continue to struggle by giving information in the format and manner you are comfortable with. You can continue to interact in your regular manner. And, you can continue to experience the frustration and lack of progress that you currently are coping with.

Or, you may adapt your style to that of other team members. You can offer information with a greater degree or a lesser degree of detail. You can ask indirect or pointed questions, based on the preferences of your co-workers. You can stop to ask about family, hobbies, sports before beginning a business discussion; or you can skip the small talk altogether to address the issue at hand—all depending on the inclinations of team members.

Most people find that paying the upfront price of analysis of others’ styles and adaptation of their own style to that of the others pays off in the long run. Productivity soars. Working relationships are built or mended. Job satisfaction is appreciably improved. With intentional focus and modification of interaction style, chances of success can be certain.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Great tips, Ken. In many ways, you’re talking about EQ here, eh? Do you think everyone’s wired for perceiving these types of dynamics among team members? MBTI might suggest otherwise. Curious to see if you think this can be learned…suppose so, but some folks have an advantage over others in this regard, I think.

Ken Boxer

Thanks for your thoughts Andrew! It is like EQ. I do think there are skills that can help people to perceive dynamics and cues — but like other skills, there needs to be motivation to learn and keep using them. A big piece of that motivation would come from having some success–this always helps!

Greg Jaquez

I’m kinda new to all this leadership theory stuff, but I’m finding it fascinating as it relates to me personally. I just started reading a book by the title The 360 Degree Leader which has me hooked. Just 50 pages in and I’m already rethinking how I can lead from the middle and be an effective and positive influencer. I don’t have to get much further into it to give it my recommendation.

Deb Green

Great advice – textbook transactional leadership!

I had a saying for my former boss – “If you always do what you always done, You’ll always get what you always got.” Definition of insanity is consistently doing the same thing and expecting a different result. This also works for dating advice 🙂

There’s one more component I’d add to any change/process improvement campaign – where is Sean’s support from senior leadership to make those changes happen? If that’s not there, he’s going to be banging his head against the wall for a while, and getting really creative with his leadership strategies.