Building influence: 4 approaches that win over hearts, not just minds

By Kate Gaylord, Principal Consultant, Navigator Management Partners

Influence makes or breaks a change initiative. Research shows that senior leaders play an outsized role in successful change within organizations. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, “Without the capacity to influence others, your ability to achieve your vision remains elusive because no one can do it alone. Without the ability to capture the hearts, minds, and energy of others, the truly important things in work and in life can’t be achieved.”
Leaders often rely on their “positional authority” to persuade others to effect change. This may be enough to generate support for a short-term change. But sustaining the level of engagement necessary for a change to really take root, requires leaders to win the hearts of employees and not just appeal to their minds.

We have identified four key leadership practices that form the foundation of influence:
  1. Read the room 
  2. Listen more and talk less 
  3. Demonstrate credibility 
  4. Establish a shared goal

Read the Room

Every time we interact with others, we make an impression, whether we are aware of what that impression is or not. Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, authors of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, discovered that emotional intelligence (EQ) can be developed over time by paying attention to: 
  • Personal Competence = self-awareness + self-management
  • Social Competence = social awareness + relationship management
How do you know if you have a high degree of emotional intelligence?  It’s almost easier to identify when you do not. Think about the last time a conversation didn’t go the way you had planned, or the last stressful meeting you led.  How did you react in the moment?  How did others react?  If you find that you spend a lot of time smoothing things over or are unsure what is going wrong with a relationship, you may want to take stock of your emotional intelligence and take steps to improve.


Listen More and Talk Less 

Influence is grounded in understanding the individual or group you want to reach. And listening – without agenda or preconception – is critical. The only way to learn what others are thinking or feeling is to listen. If you begin a conversation thinking you already have the solution, chances are, you will not be fully engaged in the conversation, and miss the opportunity to build the relationship. Focus on what the other person is really saying so you can understand the content and the intent.  These tips can help:
  • Resist the urge to formulate your answer in your head while the other person is talking.
  • Avoid interrupting, even when youthink you have something important to add
  • Ask questions thatinvite more from the speaker.
  • Note your “Listen/Talk ratio”.  Strive for a 2:1 ratio of listening to talking. 
  • Reflect back to the speaker what you heard them say.

Demonstrate Credibility

Trust is not conveyed by status; it must be earned over time by displaying, consistently, that you have character and competence – or the credibility and capabilities to deliver results with integrity and the right intent. In The Speed of Trust, Stephen M. Covey says that to build trust, you must demonstrate credibility, which relies on the traits of character and competence.
  • Integrity—Do you do what you say you will?
  • Intent—Do you have a hidden agenda?
  • Capabilities—Can you do what you need to do?  Are your skills relevant?
  • Results—What is your track record?
Every interaction is an opportunity to build trust or to lose it.  It is imperative to find ways to demonstrate credibility with character and competence in order to build trust – before you need it.  


Establish a Shared Goal

In building a change, you need to establish a desired outcome. Likewise, in interactions with leaders or sponsors or high-stakes conversations, have a firm idea of what you want the outcome to be and create a reason for them to join you in that goal.
Psychologist and author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini, says that to change someone’s mind, it helps to establish a connection or common shared goal. Creating a shared goal helps build bridges and when people are working toward the same outcome, there is less friction. Creating stories that paint a picture of the future state helps people envision it.     
The common thread that runs through the leadership practices discussed here is that cultivating influence is an ongoing, continuous pursuit. It is not a task that you can check off on your “to do” list. As a change leader, it’s important to recognize that building, nurturing, and maintaining influence throughout a major change effort is a critical success factor. Indeed, understanding the importance of influence and how to cultivate it is a key element of any executive toolkit. 
Navigator Management Partners is a market and thought leader in organizational change management, leadership communications and employee engagement. Contact us to help drive change and adoption, help leaders connect with their organizations and engage staff around your mission. 
Want to learn more? Watch for the ebook on Building Influence to be released in January 2019. 


Schell, Richard, Influence and Persuasion at Work, Wharton
Bradberry, Travis and Jean Greaves, Emotional Intelligence, TalentSmart, cop. 2009. Retrieved from 
Covey, Stephen M., (2006) The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything. Accessed on Aug. 21, 2018
Covey, Stephen R. (2012). 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. RosettaBooks LLC
Horsager, David. (Oct. 12, 2012) You Can’t Be a Great Leader Without Trust—Here’s How You Build It. Forbes Leadership Forum. Retrieved from: Accessed on Aug. 21, 2018.
Prosci (2018). Best Practices in Change Management –10th edition.