Can you inspire others? 6 tips for boosting your personal influence

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“You cannot antagonise and influence at the same time”, John Knox

 

Personal influence relates to perception of status, power, attitude and position.  Using persuasion within an ethical framework can help you inspire others even when you are not in a position of authority.  At the same time, if you learn about influence, you will be able to recognize and deal effectively with those that misuse it as a form of manipulation.

If you agree that human behavior is not always the result of purely rational activity, you will also see that being right on the substance on any topic but wrong on the people will hinder your success.  How many times do you get stuck on the “I’m right – you are wrong” mindset?

A confrontational style trying to convince others rarely triggers true inspiration.  Influencing skills are more subtle, they require a deep understanding of the psychology of influence.  For those interested in the topic, I recommend the seminal work of Robert B. Cialdini.  He explains the overpowering effect of the rules of persuasion and offers good guidance on how to use them appropriately.

Here are some other tips that can help you boost your influence:

  1. Many human reactions are self-defensive or motivated by fear.  Identifying those emotions in yourself, your clients and other people will make you a forerunner.
  2. A couple of clichés that work: first impressions count and small talk matters.  It is not all about being clever; people follow optimistic and kind persons naturally.
  3. Think about things you have in common with other people and build upon similarities.
  4. Don’t expect to be smarter than others- people feel and resent this- just be honest.
  5. As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said or what you did, but they never forget the way you made them feel.”  I find this very powerful:  gather feedback, note when people say they feel good being around you and observe what it was that made them feel good (if you don’t know, ask!).
  6. Don’t be afraid to show some vulnerability.  People who seem “normal” are not less competent.  Work with grit and accuracy on your analysis or professional content, but still take the time to relate to others with authenticity.

Take time to observe:  who inspires you?  Why? What do you admire most in other people?  Have you decided to make changes or try something new because you’ve been inspired by someone?

When I was at university one day we were talking about “silly dreams”.  I said I would have loved to go to Vienna to the Schönbrunn palace for Carnival, wear a princess dress and dance all night like Sissi, but I didn’t have the time (nor the money) to do that.  When we came back from holidays a fellow student said “I did your dream, went to the palace and danced the waltz in a great long dress”.  I felt cheated.  I thought “she stole my dream”.  I am now so proud I inspired her, maybe she would have never thought of doing that and this is now part of her memories… I don’t know what inspired her.  Maybe she was just bored and needed to borrow a dream.  But I like to think that perhaps my enthusiasm and the way I spoke about my dream had something to do with it.

Strangely, this episode inspired me later on to share more serious inspirational ideas with others at work.  It gave me the confidence to think that my imagination could appeal to others and trigger new initiatives.

Have you been a source of inspiration to someone without using authority?  How did it feel?

Why not come and take the time to think about your own dreams?  In the RenewYou workshop on June 21 in Brussels we’ll do just that:  take the time to get inspired and take control of your life.

Stagnation hurts more than change

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 “The snake that cannot shed its skin perishes. So do the spirits, who are prevented from changing their opinions, they cease to be spirits.”

Nietzsche’s The Dawn

 

Any kind of transformation requires energy, so in that sense change may be perceived as painful.  On the other hand staying stagnated, stuck in a situation that is not optimal, tied to an inflexible routine can hurt more deeply.  Inaction and procrastination lead to a sense of dissatisfaction that can erode your identity because you are living against your values or wishes.

Sometimes we feel trapped in our lives, and we don’t even realise we are making ourselves miserable.  Difficulties start to make us develop a tunnel vision and suddenly there are no options available.  We fall into fatalism, we are condemned to an existence with a determinism that we accept without questioning.  “I have no time to exercise”, “I need to lose weight but I need my wine and chocolate”, “I don’t like this job but the market is so difficult”, “I’m unhappy in my relationship but it is too late to change”, “I would like to meet someone but I hate networking”…..

What if what we believe derives from rational thinking is not actually reality?  What if we have contributed ourselves to the perception of a reality that is not the life we intend to live and that can be transformed once we take the decisions, change our attitudes and apply ourselves to it?

Confrontation with the idea of our finite existence and the elusiveness of happiness in life is not bad.  But a less dramatic thought can help:  we have all experienced some life changing moments before.  Think about how that happened:  a flash, a realization, new information, meeting someone.

It is impressive to see how some people spend fortunes renewing their houses, changing cars frequently, refurbishing their living-rooms, buying new clothes, having their gardens redone and their hands manicured.  And it is also sad to see how other people retreat from their socials lives and live for the single purpose of working and producing, abandoning their appearance, health, emotional and spiritual needs.

Whatever needs renewal in your life, the first step is the determination to do something about it.  Becoming rebellious against stagnation is taking charge and responsibility for forging our own reality.  Nobody else will do this for us, and if they do, it might not be for the sake of your life and your own desires.

Start today and decide to take control of your life.  That’s the first step.  Once you do this, opportunities pop up, help appears more accessible, there are books, people, courses, friends, coaches, family, places out there waiting for you to discover them and get you inspired.

I have discovered this is true and have met transformational people:  those that helped me see other ways of thinking and perceiving my own life.

What is bothering you?  Is it difficult to take the first step, what if you simply took the time to revise your life from within and assess what you would like to renew? 

Your call and deeper needs deserve attention.  Ignoring the questions will not make them go away.  Stagnation hurts more than change. Just take little steps:  how would you like to feel? what is missing? what do you want more of? what new things do you want to try? what can you give to others? how do you want others to feel around you? what kind of people do you want to spend more time with? what first steps can you take to change in the direction you want?

 

Settling for mediocrity? Time to revisit your aspirations

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 “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it” Salvador Dali

I paint landscapes at the Fine Arts Academy.  Last week I asked my master to set up a still life with apples.  Back to lesson number one.  Everyone in the atelier came to ask what I was doing and why  was I returning to such a “basic” task.  I gave them the short answer: “Oh, I’m just playing with colour”.  The longer answer is that I had been reading The Mediocre Man, by José Ingenieros.

José Ingenieros was a doctor, journalist and philosopher born on April 24, 1877, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  He died a young man in 1925.  His work has not been widely translated but was an icon in Latin American philosophy.

In El Hombre Mediocre Ingenieros advocates for moral idealism.

He defines idealists are as young, rebellious, passionate and unwilling to settle for mediocrity.   Idealists are insatiable dreamers, curious, easily touched by enthusiasm and noble.  They have great visions of improving the world.  They focus on putting their dreams into practice and are against any form of mediocrity in the sense that they question dogmas.  Their essence is a longing for the possibility of improvement by focusing on the significance of everyday experience.

Ingenieros’ philosophy falls under what many call “Perfectionist theories”, those that advocate the improvement of one’s self.  Idealists believe that the world can be better and that the purpose of life is to constantly strive for improvement of not only themselves but the circumstances around them. In a way, he claims that by perfecting oneself, we are inspiring others to do the same and therefore, collectively improving our surroundings.

Ingenieros was a great admirer of Waldo Emerson, who also thought that the main vice is conformity and encouraged people to rebel against dogmas and think by themselves.

A lot has been written about how perfectionists end up in a burn-out or depression.  I agree with this.  However, there is a need to reclaim the value of excellence.  Trying to “do your best” and aspiring to improve will not make you sick or depressed.  It will make you live a fuller life.

Both Emerson and Ingenieros agree that the remedy against mediocrity is the belief in the potential for improvement using imagination and originality. For them, mediocrity is related to routine. People who are afraid of changes and rely on dogmas to tell them how to live tend to be mediocre.  Idealists who go for excellence without fear, are curious, and dare to experiment and make mistakes, understand that this is the essence of improving yourself.

For Ingenieros, idealist people live a good life. Emerson sums up idealism in more concrete words: “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded”.

Perfection is not attainable, but I am convinced that the world would be better -and each of us happier-  if we kept our young, rebellious unwillingness to settle for mediocrity alive.

This is why painting apples gave me so much pleasure.  They are not perfect but they are more beautiful than last year’s.  Next week two more colleagues at the atelier will also be painting apples; they don’t know that they owe this to José Ingenieros.

What little and big things do you want to improve for yourself?  Why not aspire to inspire those around you?  Think about people you admire: have they settled for mediocrity?

Productivity Insanity? Create your personal KPIs.

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“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals” Henry David Thoreau

 

The day I was told that my team had to measure “happiness” and that I should set a target for “the number of opinions” a lawyer should issue per hour, I freaked out.  I was heading a team of very senior, mature lawyers that knew what they were doing.  Asking them to spend time measuring their feelings and meeting KPIs for creative work that requires complex analysis was absurd.

We all know that objectives have to be concrete and measurable, that efficiency is a good friend of to-do lists, that commitment and follow up are indispensable to achieve one’s goals.  I have negotiated hundreds of IT agreements where KPIs are indispensable and serve their purpose.  But trying to apply Key Performance Indicators to everything is insane.  People forget the key word in KPIs:  “Key” means that they have to be representative, selective.  When applied excessively to your personal life they can be extremely counterproductive, killing all opportunity for creativity and engagement.

As a manager, I believed in measuring only the measurable and inspiring people to drive improvements by themselves.  We are all managers of our own lives.  What kind of personal goals do you set for yourself?  How do you measure your achievements?

I have decided to live by my own KPIs.  I have banned hollow Key Performance Indicators from my life.  Centering all your energy in Productivity and Performance is Passionless –and dangerous-, it distracts you from the really important “P”:  your Purpose.

Try these KPIs:

Keep your Personal Inspiration alive:  the more motivated you are, the easier it is to enjoy what you are doing and in turn this will inspire those around you.

Keep Picking Intelligently: does a task fit in with your goal in life or at least you are learning from it? Then engage with passion and try your best.  Does it take you away from what you want and it doesn’t bring anything positive to you or those who need your energy? Toss it!

Know and Practice using your Imagination: allow yourself to be inventive and you will find that you are meeting more targets and finding new ways of being productive – without the pressure of having to measure every single step.

I know, sometimes you are not the one setting those KPIs.  Well, try this one:  Kindly use your Personal Influence.  There are always ways to move people in other directions.  If that doesn’t work and you are forced to follow certain targets – know how to place them – they are just someone’s KPIs, not the whole purpose of your life.

And finally, appreciate that not everything is about being industrious.  Do more of what you love.  Do it keenly.  I always wear a little gold medal that says: “more than yesterday, less than tomorrow”.  It is a love promise.  I don’t want to forget what it means.  I don’t want it to mean “more stress, more anxiety, more fear that I will not meet my KPIs”.  It means “more energy, more passion, more love and more compassion, more meaning, more fun”.  This also means more work and more commitment, but on the right KPIs.

Dare to grow

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“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” ~ Bertrand Russell

On a hot summer day I was shopping for groceries at a supermarket and there was a special offer for an oil painting kit, complete with brushes, canvas and oil tubes. I felt an urge to express myself and bought it. That afternoon I painted little old houses on a piece of carton board. The houses resembled Bruges’s old town oldest cottages but that day it was unusually hot in Bruges, so I used warm Italian colours, under a sharp blue sky. After all, they say that Bruges is the Venice of the North. It gave me so much pleasure to be able to show how I saw the world that day.

The next experiment was a portrait of a girl. I painted it in the garden, using my fingers like a toddler. The girl is wearing a hat with long feathers.

It took me a few days to realize I wanted to be that girl, and the feather hat was in fact a bird. The bird represents all sorts of things going through my mind. At the time I was immersed in an intense inner search period, trying to decide whether to make a big career change or take a well paid but boring job. I consulted a psychologist who specializes in career management. She also noticed that the bird was sitting tightly, as if protecting the girl, still unsure whether to fly away or stay.

It’s been while. I’ve let the bird go. Sometimes that’s what you have to do to grow.

Give yourself permission to spread your wings. Free your bird up and be who you really want to be.