Five ways for business leaders to build influence
‘Trust arrives on foot but leaves on horseback’. The old Dutch proverb offers business leaders an important lesson before embarking on a personal reputation building campaign to grow their influence.
Gaining the trust of the public takes time and the process should be carefully managed to avoid a swift unravelling of hard-fought gains, but there are steps that can be taken to plot the right course to increased influence.
The public is looking for leadership from the health sector during the pandemic. It is not only appropriate for leaders of medical companies to have a voice, but vitally important.
Here are five ways for business leaders to build influence:
1. Be values driven
Communicating messages that align with your own personal values, as well as those of your organisation and delivering them with consistency is an important first step.
You should set out from the start to define the characteristics you wish to convey and stick to them, so that over time your audience instantly recognises you for them.
In his book Influence: Science and Practice, Robert Cialdini identifies ‘commitment & consistency’ as one the six key principles of influence. Without behavioural consistency, a leader’s reliability comes into question and people turn the other way.
2. Be authentic
Exploiting social causes when they’re hot online and in the media can be an instant trust eroding exercise; the superficiality is patently obvious when actions don’t line up with words.
Corporate social responsibility should be part of your business’ DNA and there is a body of evidence to support what you need to be active in this area. Business leaders should choose social causes that reflect their values and look to deliver real impact, rather than aim for ubiquity across fashionable issues.
What’s the correct way to do this?
An example could be a medical company that works in the oncology space partnering with a cancer charity and health consumer organisation, supporting them by sponsoring and speaking at events, making donations, sharing expertise and resources and helping them to have a seat at the table with policy makers.
It goes much further than simply writing a cheque.
3. Be a thought leader
Through the sometimes-myopic prisms of social media and the traditional press, airing your opinions can be daunting. Why bother when the vitriol from those who disagree is so visible?
‘You cannot please all of the people all of the time’ is a timeless aphorism. Focus on the good that can come from persuading those who matter and be proactive as a leader.
If fear drives you to a non-position on an issue, you cannot expect your audience to listen if your insight is just empty words. Decide where you stand and if it’s right to speak up, you can build influence by putting your voice forward. Of course, knowing when not to speak is just as important.
Examples of how to make yourself a thought leader (not exhaustive):
- Write opinion pieces.
- Proactively make yourself available to the media to comment on relevant issues.
- Build a social media presence.
4. Be physically visible
In a COVID-world that has starved us of face-to-face contact, it may be hard to imagine how you can build influence through physical presence, but being visible and vocal at events, conferences and community gatherings, is just as important as putting your name to an 850-word yarn in the Sydney Morning Herald.
5. Be studious and practice
Building a reputation and influence as the Dutch rightly tell us is a slow process, but it can’t be built on courage and force of personality alone.
Learning how to deliver messages to the media, present at a conference, assess risk of reputational damage and keep on the right side of the court of public opinion, are skills and knowledge acquired through lived experience and active improvement.
Contact our team of health communications experts today to find out how we can help with your communications strategy.