Have you ever met someone, perhaps at a work retreat or a networking event, and come away feeling they really connected with you? That they were fully present and understood you or the issues being discussed. They didn’t try impress you by talking about themselves, and they didn’t judge your insecurities or flaws. Perhaps it’s someone you’ve worked with or worked for. Someone highly competent but understated, and who is liked and respected by those around them. If you know someone like this, chances are they’re an influencer (and I don’t mean a social media influencer!).
Influencers focus on the people around them. Not in a manipulative way, but because they engage with the things that drive, inspire or challenge others. By doing this they unlock powerful leadership traits; people want to be around them and cooperate with them. Influencers are unlikely to come up against the reactions of defensiveness and insecurity in their colleagues and peers that others do.
But how do you become an influencer? US psychologist Dr Paul, who developed the Four Quadrants of Influence shows that where we put our focus during our interactions with others, determines not only how we feel about ourselves, but how others will feel towards us.
According to Dr Paul, there are four quadrants of awareness in our interactions with others (see diagram below). In the first two quadrants our focus is either on how we feel about ourselves, or how others feel about the us. In the last two quadrants our focus is about the content of our interaction – are we talking about ourselves or the other person?
- Being in the self-consciousness quadrant means that our focus is on how we feel about ourselves? Do I know enough about this subject? Can I lead this project/team or Am I good enough for this role? Think about the last time you spoke to someone who was totally self-absorbed – how did that interaction feel? Because this quadrant is about how we feel about ourselves, it can result in self-consciousness and create stress and anxiety, for us and the people we interact with.
- When we’re in the insecurity quadrant our focus is all about how the other person feels about us. Do they like me? Do they think I’m a good leader? Do they think I’m smart enough? Like the red quadrant, this area creates anxiety and stress, but this time the anxiety isn’t about how we feel about ourselves, it’s about how others feel about us.
- In the criticism quadrant our focus is all about how I feel about others. I don’t agree with her decision. I don’t approve of his choice, or he can’t lead, he never stands up for the team. When our focus is on how we feel about others, it becomes a judgement. Whether we approve or disapprove, we’re giving ourselves moral authority over someone else. Having our focus in this quadrant often triggers insecurities or defensiveness from others.
- The influence quadrant is where your focus is on how others feel about themselves. What are the main challenges for her at work right now? Have his father’s health issues been resolved? How is she finding life as a working parent? This is where we turn our focus to a genuine interest in how others feel about the things that matter to them. The key take out here is sincerity. If we fake it and try create influence or likeability then we move back into the criticism and insecurity quadrants. But if we are sincere, we will create influence and be liked.
The hidden secret to influence, and indeed charisma, is presence. Tuning in to where your focus lies and being present in the influence quadrant generates that enviable charismatic leadership that so easily inspires. Paradoxically we’re most likely to achieve this type of influence when we’re not trying to. When it’s about them not us. After all it’s not hard to imagine that by being present, making eye contact, and listening with genuine empathy we will connect with others, or have them open up to us. Or that by not judging them, or taking the credit for ourselves, we will gain confidence and support from those we collaborate with.
Perhaps the most famous example in summarising the effect of the Influence quadrant comes from Lady Randolph Churchill (Winston Churchill’s mother) when asked her opinion about the two leading candidates for the role of Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone: “…after sitting next to Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest person in England. But when I sat next to Disraeli, I left feeling that I was the cleverest person in England.” Who do you think turned out to be the charismatic Prime Minister a week later?
Sharon Peake is the Founder of Shape Talent Ltd, a gender equality coaching and consulting business established with the sole purpose of getting more women into senior leaderships roles in business. We work with organisations to remove the barriers to women’s progression and we work with individual women, helping them to achieve their career potential.
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