Everyone from general managers to system engineers is trying to influence stakeholders. Even the richest man in the world, Bill Gates spoke in a recent interview about having to influence stakeholders to complete his latest project. He said, “Helping convene global stakeholders to establish a set of measurable, actionable and consensus-built goals focused on extreme poverty is invaluable.”
Ultimately, all projects depend on the buy-in and ongoing support of stakeholders. Some are internal, such as managers and employees. Other are external, such as suppliers and shareholders.
If influencing stakeholders is going to help your project, as well as your performance review, bonus, salary, and future career, then it’s important to find out how you can become a better stakeholder influencer.
1. Know your enemy
“Know your enemy, know yourself” is a quote from Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu’s book, The Art Of War. The 2500-year-old book is required reading for business people and is on CEO.com’s list of 23 leadership books to read before you die.
One way to know your stakeholders – enemies or not – is to do a stakeholder analysis. There are many analysis tools on Google, but here is a free template you can download from the Victorian government.
2. Pass the dragon test
Though passion is important, it alone won’t influence your stakeholders; you need a good track record. On the TV show Dragons’ Den, people come to influence a panel of potential stakeholders to finance and support their project. What I have observed is that the most innovative product won’t be supported by the stakeholders unless the people have a positive track record. You also need a positive track record to influence your stakeholders to support your project.
3. Possess the X-factor
Stakeholders are not fools. They are looking for one thing, the X factor. They know that if they back the person or team with the X factor, then they are more likely to get results and support from other stakeholders.
The X factor is a combination of charisma, optimism, confidence and emotional intelligence. It makes you stand out from the crowd and attracts people to you. For some people, the X factor is an innate skill. For others it is developed through determination, passion and grit.
4. Check your foundation
Out of all the skills a leader requires, influencing skills are the number one. Fortunately, influencing is a skill that can be developed. Recently, I interviewed Australia’s former Olympic judo coach, Angela Deacon, who now works as Bankwest’s senior manager, organisational capability. I asked her whether Olympic champions ever had to go back to basics. She replied, “Olympic champions go back to basics when things aren’t working as well as they should. Basics are all about getting the technical aspects perfect.”
To elevate your influencing skills, go back to basics and look at the foundations of influencing and check whether you have been using all of these. Above all, keep using your influence and it will continue to grow. In the words of philosopher Andrew Yong, “Influence is like a savings account. The less you use it, the more you’ve got.”