Creating your own network of influence is crucial to your success as a new CEO. Your new role as CEO comes with power, but you need more to be successful. You also need influence. Getting it right means knowing how to find and sway the right people in the right way.

In this article, you’ll learn what it means to be both powerful and influential, and how to cultivate your own networks of influence.

Influence versus power

Your ability to set and direct strategy is probably built into your job description, but your ability to influence your people might not be. Influence comes from how you relate to people, and how you work with them.

Before we go into this, let’s consider the difference between influence and power.

Power comes with the job but influence is a personal quality.

Some people are influential without a formal leadership position. Others might sit high in the organisational chart but be unable to win people over.

Power flows down, but influence works in all directions.

One Forbes Coaches Council member calls influence ‘the informal kind of leadership, where someone is able to organize others with no formal chain of command’. That’s why influence is often defined as ‘informal power’.

Every company has a network of informal power.

In large companies, there will be more than one. These networks form a part of your company’s culture. They have a hand in deciding what work gets done, how, and by whom.

Establishing and building influence as CEO means adding to this network. Your impact on the company will be bigger – and will hit home faster – if you understand who’s influential, and how they operate.

By reading the network of influence that you have joined, you discover who can help (or hinder) your ideas and plans. You learn how to inspire the people who work for you. You become someone who can get things done.

When you add to this the formal power of a CEO, you’re a long way to being the most important individual in the business’s history.

Networks multiply your personal influence

It’s natural to want to increase your own influence and there are countless books, articles and training programs to help you with that. But understanding entire networks of influence, and using them wisely, is a much more valuable art.

Here’s why.

When you can see influence at work, you can predict how it will operate next time. Then you’re ready use your own influence more effectively. Important influencers give your decisions and ideas momentum.

Let’s look at two different ways to decipher networks of influence. One is to find the effects of influence, then trace them back. The other is to analyse individual relationships.

Following the trails of influential people

Ideas and decisions drive what your company does and how. Influential people get their way, with or without the credit.

Everything your company does began as a set of ideas. You probably already know what those ideas are, but exactly where, and from whom, did they emerge?

People set your company’s strategy, policies and values, and people design your products or services. As they do, they debate and make trade-offs.

The individuals who spark things might not be the ones managing the work (or even taking credit for the idea). There are winners and losers. Learn the history of these debates to find the important nodes of the influence network.

Almost everything is easier when people collaborate. Influential people are welcome and effective outside their own areas.

Look at the interactions across your organisation and ask questions like:

  • Who is sought out for their opinions?
  • When workflows intersect, who’s useful in multiple directions?
  • Who gets involved in initiatives across the company?
  • Who puts in effort outside of their own team?

You’ll soon see who can push your priorities in the directions you need them to go.

When you know and trust someone, you are more willing to follow their lead. Influential people know who to deal with, when, and how.

Relationships that cross personal, professional, and community boundaries are bridges for influence.

  • Who knows their coworkers, customers, or other stakeholders as individuals?
  • Who knows what others value personally, as well as professionally?
  • Who creates the informal connections between your company and your community?

Wide personal networks – reaching into social clubs volunteer organisations, or sporting circles for example – link small and mid-size businesses to the community. When these people bring ideas and input to work, they’ll often be ‘pre-workshopped’, with support built in.

The ability to sway groups and decisions is an asset. People with positive influence are more valuable than the job they do.

Which employees are so valuable that your company would want to keep them even if their jobs became redundant?

You need to know who they are and what makes them necessary. There’s a strong chance that these people are more influential than average.

Build an overall picture of influence from individual relationships

The Harvard Business Review recently published a system for figuring out how much influence you have at work. This can help you map a network of relationships and the flow of influence within it.

Here’s how it works. Starting with yourself:

  1. List your top internal contacts (no more than 10).
  2. Assign each person a ‘dependency score’ of 1-10. Weigh their broad value to you and how difficult they’d be to replace. The higher their score, the more you depend on them.
  3. Turn things around and estimate the ‘dependency score’ they would give you.
  4. Use the difference between the two scores to see the strength and direction of ‘dependency’. A difference in dependency indicates power. And if that power is informal, it’s influence.

This exercise reveals how power and influence typically flow in each relationship. From here, you can recreate the network around you by analysing other relationships in the same way. You won’t know exactly how valuable or replaceable people are to each other, but just having the estimates puts you in a position of knowledge.

Once you’ve got that knowledge, you can start testing it to validate your assumptions.

You’ll start finding that the most influential people have strong relationships and a range of diverse contacts. If you find people who have influence centred on one area of the business, they will likely have a smaller effect on the network.

Working within a network of influence

Like social networks, influence networks amplify ideas and decisions that they like. Once you’ve identified the most influential people around you, you’ll know who can give crucial backing to your ideas and decisions.

Recent promotion? Your power and influence have been rebalanced.

You were already in the network if you held a different position in the company before becoming CEO. But, promotion increases formal power, so your level of influence will change too.

Formal power can crowd out the informal: This is a hard change to detect until it matters.

Strive to understand and acknowledge new power dynamics. Old peers are peers no longer. Lunch buddies might find it harder to share downtime with you. Honest, open discussions are challenging with more powerful people, no matter who they are.

So, if this is you, it’s time for you to spend time reshaping your influence around your increased formal power.

Appointed from the outside, you bring positive power but neutral influence.

When you are new to a company, it is a trap to assume that your power brings influence. Remember: Influence is informal; it’s personal, and based on relationships.

Just because you’re in a powerful position, there is no reason to put less attention on the informal. You’re on the high side of every power dynamic in the company now – a complication that might be new to you.

What you need to do is to increase the amount of time and effort you invest in building your network of influence.

Every CEO is powerful, but only successful CEOs are influential

The best leaders combine power and influence.

Success comes from making the right decisions at the right time, and bringing everyone with you too. To do this means influencing the right people in the right way. It is a leadership skill as important as any other.

Keep building your influence and leadership skills with the CEO Insight

Influence is one of many leadership skills that will determine your success as a CEO. Readers of the CEO Insight are constantly improving. How? With focused attention on important skills like understanding influence networks. Subscribe now to join them:

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