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Influencing from underneathUltimately, leadership is about influence. It is a privilege to lead others to their next level of extraordinary, however, sometimes we feel limited because of our position. How do you win over those who have more positional power than you? Knowing how to lead and influence others from underneath toward their next level of extraordinary can be tricky. Inevitably, there is tension that comes with this. How do you use strategic influence to challenge others without seeming insubordinate? How do you present new ideas in a way that helps others focus on the potential and not your lower position?

We live in such a fast-paced world, it’s easy to forget how much time certain things require. We watch a four-second YouTube short. We click on a six-second Instagram reel. We send a text, a chat, an email loaded with acronyms and shortcuts in language. Influence doesn’t work that way. On a very practical level, influencing from below takes time. Time to establish a strong reputation of reliability, competency, and character. Seeking to influence those above you without spending the time to establish these core elements will seem arrogant. However, when you have worked hard and invested the time to establish a track record of excellence and efficiency, it legitimizes your input. In other words, you’ve earned your voice at the table.

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It takes time to build a rapport with others so that you know how to personally connect and influence them. It takes time to show others that you walk the talk. Time to ask questions to show others you care about them, value them, and to express they are worth your investment of time. Showing a willingness to pause and listen, stay curious, and to give others attention is foundational to strong leadership. When you spend time to connect with others you communicate your appreciation for who they are rather than only what they do.

Ideally, you’re gaining wisdom along the way regarding how to present ideas or challenges in a strategic way. What is the best opportunity to present something new? Who is the best person to approach with feedback regarding your suggestions or ideas? Part of a successful strategy is going to be connecting your ideas and challenges with mission. Are you maintaining company values and mission in the ways you seek to influence? If not, that should cause you pause and reconsider.

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Make no mistake: it’s not about you. It’s not about your personal agenda. A healthy leader seeks to call others up to their next level of extraordinary. A healthy leader is going to keep the organization’s values and mission first. And a healthy leader seeks to influence others toward their greatest potential. In the midst of investing time in these areas, that foundational trust is crucial.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) wrote this article regarding influencing up in the workplace. In this piece, David Robinson includes some very practical factors to be considered in order to successfully influence others. Thoughtfulness and professionalism are non-negotiables. HBR also wrote this article about the ripple effect of influence. The bottom line is that leadership is about influence. Without influence, leadership is dead.

What is the cost of seeking to influence those above you? What are the potential obstacles you can anticipate? What resources can you access to overcome those challenges? What is the cost of not influencing those above you? And how are YOU staying open to feedback along the way?  It’s important not to limit ourselves by our position of power, yet also respect the position of others and respect them as individuals. How can you call others to their next level of extraordinary even if you’re underneath?


You can read additional blog posts by Melissa here.