This article originally appeared in VOICE, the newsletter and blog of the International Association of Coaching in March/April 2011, and is reprinted with permission.
We often think of influence as persuasion at best, manipulation or brainwashing at worst. So why, in a coaching context, would we talk about influence? Influence is a key skill for coaches to understand. If you’re an internal coach, you’ll need innovative influence to create opportunities for coaching, to seek budget allocations for your programs, and to demonstrate the results of your work to the key stakeholders in your organization. If you’re an external or independent coach, you’ll need innovative influence skills to turn your business development efforts into paying clients!
Defining Innovative Influence
Innovative influence is best described as the intersection between leadership and business development. Leadership relies on authenticity, aligned action and awareness. Business development is a three-legged stool of networking, marketing and sales. Innovative influence happens when you are able to integrate your activities across all six of these domains.
The Art of It
When you, as a coach or as a leader, take thoughtful action in all six areas simultaneously, you will become influential in ways you never imagined. When you are leading your business development conversations with authenticity, awareness, and aligned action, or when you enhance your leadership efforts by networking, marketing and selling, you are functioning at the intersection of leadership and business development, i.e., innovative influence.
How to Leverage It
Now you’re thinking, “Okay, that’s all well and good, but how do I do that?” Glad you asked!
To begin, think of a situation where you would like to have influence. Now ask yourself my favorite coaching question of all time: “What conversations do I need to have, and with whom, to create that result?”
Step 1: Name the names
Here’s where the networking part comes in. Your answer to the question above may have resulted in a list of influencers, perhaps even a list of people with whom you don’t currently have a relationship. How will you get to those people? Start with who you know. Create a list of who you know that can introduce you to key influencers. Then set about creating a strategic relationship with those influencers. One great vehicle for that is the informational interview.
Step 2: Prepare for your conversations
List the questions that will yield the information you need for your intended outcome. Plan your platform as well, meaning what is your leadership point of view or what is your message to express to these influencers? This is the marketing part, specifically about your brand. How do you want to be known? What do you want to be known for? Think of stories you can tell that will paint that picture or prepare materials to share with the influencers.
Step 3: Identify your primary request
For the sales portion of the conversation, be prepared with your primary request for this person. Do you want them to introduce you to someone, buy your services, refer business to you, buy into your concept or idea or program or do you want them to allocate budget resources? Clarify your request ahead of time.
You’ll bring in the remaining domains throughout this process.
- Always communicate with authenticity. Be yourself. People buy from (and are influenced by) other people whom they like, trust, and believe can make a difference.
- The awareness piece comes in when you seek to understand the political landscape in which these conversations will be taking place, as well as the key commitments of the influencer you are meeting. What matters most to them? Can you link your request to an opportunity for them to advance what matters most to them? Awareness of the timing of your “ask” can also matter, if you seek to influence a positive response to your request.
- Aligned action is when your conversations and requests are all in alignment with your a) noble purpose b) authentic leadership brand c) strengths d) intended sphere of influence e) passion and f) natural personality or communication style.
Now that you are armed and dangerous, go out there and influence!