Influenceable — it’s a funny word. Succinct, but not easy to say. Simply stated: Are you someone who can be influenced by others? And is that a good thing?
As strategic leaders, we influence. We change actions, behaviors, and decisions. And if you desire greater strategic impact, then you’ll need greater influence. Because influence isn’t something you have or don’t have. It’s situational.
You need a different level of influence to gain buy‑in from your CEO or BOD to acquire a company for $100M than what you need to align your direct reports to the implications of the broader business strategy. No matter your level of influence, there will always be situations that demand more of you.
Ironically, one way to increase our influence is to be more influenceable.
Situation: A Lack of Strategic Alignment
Take Charlie. He is a big man with a booming voice. His physical presence alone commands respect. He is highly educated, with decades of experience as a physician and as a developer of innovative medicines. In his current role as Chief Medical Officer for a high‑growth bio‑pharma, he has been enabling unprecedented regulatory approvals and leading an R&D transformation to deliver on the company growth and vision.
He’s also been “breaking a lot of glass” along the way. While Charlie is very persuasive and able to drive extraordinary outcomes, his team and colleagues end up feeling steamrolled. It’s Charlie’s way or the highway. Their perspectives and experiences seem to have little to no impact on his strategic direction and decisions. Frustrations are high. When it comes to offering an idea that might challenge Charlie, the growing feeling is, “Why bother?”
Charlie is frustrated too. And exhausted. He is passionately committed to the company mission and feels a huge sense of responsibility to deliver results for patients. He feels like he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and must think of everything to ensure success. Why can’t he rely more on his team for help?
Something needs to change. For everyone’s sake.
The Challenge: Influence Without Authority
Often when my clients are feeling less than effective in influencing desired outcomes, they think about how to gain more power and control. This usually comes in the form of positional authority to drive decisions and get those darn people to “do what I want them to do.”
If only it were that easy.
The thing is, positional authority is NOT required for true influence. It can strengthen your credibility, but used ineffectively, it can also undermine it. This is what Charlie has been experiencing.
So, what is required?
True influence requires capturing the hearts and minds of your colleagues by building your ability to influence without relying on authority.
Politics aside, Barack Obama describes this phenomenon well in the realm of civic leadership.
No matter where you sit in the organization, at the end of the day, have you inspired and created a community that stands behind what you stand for?
As Obama says, “If you do, you will have more power. And if you don’t, you won’t.” Your influencing power comes from conviction AND connection, not position.
Influence versus Persuasion
Charlie needs his colleagues to stand with him. Not out of compliance, but out of desire and genuine buy‑in. The type of buy‑in that comes through influence, not persuasion.
When Charlie and I started working together, there was little distinction in his mind between the two. After all, both influence and persuasion impact other people’s
But in leadership, there is an important distinction. We can convince or persuade people to make a decision or take action without actually earning their genuine buy‑in, alignment, or commitment. But to influence means getting people to stand behind you, all in.
Because true influence results in choice. An individual choice — to shift our own belief, perspective, or behavior. True influence is built on a foundation of trust and credibility, and it grows out of well‑nurtured relationships. There is no influence without trust.
And influence, like trust, is built over time. Which is why persuasion can be handy to deliver near‑term results in time‑sensitive circumstances.
When Charlie joined the company, he had less than six months to secure FDA approval for their innovative new medicine. So, he leaned heavily on his powers of persuasion.
That worked … for a time. And he did deliver the needed business result. But if persuasion techniques are used in situations that ultimately require influence, the persuader will often be perceived as manipulative. Trust declines. And any compliance will be temporary at best. Charlie was learning that persuasion can only take you so far. When leading strategically, genuine buy‑in is required.
Influence and trust are two‑way streets. The more you believe in the people around you and incorporate their ideas into your vision, the more they'll believe in your ideas and incorporate them into the way they work.
Solution: Gain Strategic Alignment by Being Influenceable
If you want to influence the strategic actions and decisions of others, truly and sustainably, be influenceable. What does that look like?
First, be assertive, not aggressive
All influence starts with having a point of view. You must assert your ideas to lead strategically. And with a degree of confidence and conviction to inspire followership. But too much confidence can be experienced as arrogance, which will compromise your perceived credibility. There is a meaningful difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Too passive or too aggressive will undermine your impact.
I work with leaders who aren’t assertive enough for fear of being seen as aggressive. And leaders like Charlie, who tilt toward aggressive and don’t recognize they are losing their audience and shutting others down.
Second, be receptive
To build trusted relationships with your colleagues, start by listening. Not listening to judge or prove, but genuinely listening — with openness and curiosity. Mirror back what you are hearing, and find places to join.
When you encourage people to speak up, be sure to demonstrate your respect for their perspective. If you invite people to share their ideas and then proceed to dismiss everything they say, your good intentions will have little to no impact. It won’t be long before people stop sharing their opinions. Especially when they differ from yours.
Your opinions will naturally be heard, acknowledged, and respected when you offer the same to others.
Third, be flexible
This is one of the many artful parts of leadership, balancing being assertive AND receptive.
Too receptive: It is difficult to assert yourself fully if you’re too open to changing your opinion. If you are too receptive and adaptive, you are at risk of being perceived as standing for nothing.
Too assertive: Being too confident and adamant in your beliefs will work against you. People will come to see you as stubborn, rigid, and incapable of believing in anyone other than yourself.
Remember, there is no influence without trust. That is, trust in your credibility, and trust that you will operate in shared interest, not self-interest. A trust that only can be built through that two-way street of give and take.
In the world of strategic decisions, there is no singular right answer. No one person can see it all, know it all. It’s critical to engage with curiosity and value all perspectives. My favorite reflection in this context:
- What can they see that I can’t see?
- What can I see that they can’t see?
When you genuinely act on the belief that others’ perspectives (whether supportive or challenging) only strengthen and enrich your eventual decision, you will become a true influencer.
This requires a level of awareness to check our egos at the door. Ego can experience a challenge as a personal attack (to our credibility or authority) instead of as part of a creative process.
Influence: A Daily Practice for Strategic Alignment
So the next time you are getting ready to make your case and influence a strategic decision, pause. Shift your mindset away from simply trying to persuade your colleagues to agree with you. Be curious. Remember you are all on the same team. And no one can see the whole picture in a complex and dynamic environment.
- What becomes possible when you are open, receptive, and engaged with a mindset of curiosity and creativity?
- What could you and your colleagues create together that you couldn’t create on your own?
As for Charlie — it is a daily practice for him that takes much intention and commitment to be more influenceable. While he absolutely believes better solutions emerge from collaboration and teamwork, he still gets caught by his confidence and convictions.
We celebrate each time he is able to shift from judgment to curiosity. When he stays open and receptive, he is pleasantly surprised by what emerges from the team. Sometimes. And other times he holds firm in his stance. Either way his people increasingly feel heard — they feel that their perspectives were truly considered and respected. And in turn, so does Charlie.