Strategic Influence: A Necessary Skill for Women Leaders

What is strategic influence? It sounds like a fancy buzz phrase that people are throwing around, but actually there is an entire philosophy that is now being taught and emphasized for leaders within organizations.

Scott Thompson, from Demand Media, gives us a little background on the phrase:

Strategic influence was originally a concept from military and geopolitical strategy, referring to a nation’s ability to affect the policy decisions of other nations and organizations through control of information. The term has been borrowed by the business community to describe the ability of an individual, department or company to influence the decisions of others. Strategic influence is interpersonal power.

Why is Strategic Influence Important?

The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority. Ken Blanchard

Strategic Influence is one of the three Hard Skills Women Aspiring to Leadership Need.  Cari E. Guittard is the Principal at Global Engagement Partners and Professor of Global Management, Corporate Diplomacy & Women’s Leadership at Hult International Business School. She shares her views on the three hard skills we need to hone in order to become respected, successful leaders in business. Cari believes that we can do all the networking we want but we still won’t develop strategic influence:

Mastering the art of influence and persuasion are essential skills for anyone pursuing a leadership path. For too long, persuasion and influence have been seen as “soft skills” and an after thought in many leadership programs and seminars, if raised at all. Women who aspire to leadership roles need to master strategic influence. Doing so, like any skill, requires dedicated, diligent practice and focus. Endless networking will not get you there. The seminal book on the subject by Robert Cialdini is an essential first step to understanding the science of persuasion. Charlotte Beers’ book is also essential reading in this space, I’d Rather Be in Charge though she comes at strategic influence in a different way focusing on negotiation and persuasion tactics she’s honed based on her experiences shattering one glass ceiling after the next. 

Perfecting your communication skills and seeking out relationships across business silos is an important step in developing your influence skills. Asking questions, seeking new knowledge and developing relationships across all levels of the organization allows people to see you and connect your name with the idea of being smart, creative, inquisitive and a person of integrity; all important qualities for developing strategic influence.

In an interview, a woman seeking a promotion to director level asked the vice president, who she would report to, this question:

“In six months, how will you measure whether or not you were

successful in the appointment of who gets this promotion?”

The VP answered simply: “When the executive team comes to you for the answers rather than bringing everything to  my attention.”

That is another way of saying that the new director will have developed strategic influence within the company.

In an article entitled the Art of Strategic Influence, the authors share great insights into gaining this hard skill in business. One way is by understanding that it isn’t a popularity contest:

The strongest bond you can forge with a colleague, client, or any business contact is respect, which is borne of trust. And that often hinges on how reliably you deliver on what you promise. One consultant dubs it the “say/do ratio”: the more often you deliver on a promise, the more strategic influence you will accrue. In other words, strategic influence is not a measure of your popularity, but of your credibility, your authority, your reputation, and your ability to inspire others. 

The woman did get the promotion to director and her first act was to put an extra large container of pretzel rods on her desk. She decided that the way to gain that influence was to first be visible. She scheduled 15 minute meetings with all of the department heads and other leaders in the organization and at the end of each meeting, she invited them to her office.

“If you happen to get hungry in the afternoon, come visit…I have pretzels.”

Before long Vice Presidents, the head of legal, the president and even the CEO came to visit for an afternoon pretzel. She would ask how things were going in their department. Some times they would even stay for a few minutes to chat.

By the end of the six months, people not only knew her, they also trusted her, valued her opinion and yes…came to her before they went to the Vice President that had promoted her.

She had successfully developed strategic influence within the company.

Have you successful developed Strategic Influence within your company? How much you start?