The ability to be a good leader is more important in South Africa than ever before.

The days of succeeding as a leader just because you were operating your business in a thriving, good-growth economy are long gone. External market forces are no longer reliable enough as primary drivers for immediate growth.

If anything, the ability to be a good leader rests on the ability to be an effective influencer. Being an effective leader is synonymous with being an effective influencer.

The challenge we face in South Africa is that most of us believe we need to be in a position of seniority before we can even begin to consider how to be an effective influencer. Hence we rely on our positions as enablers to influence others, completely unaware that there are so many other ways to be influential as a leader – position in the hierarchy being only one of them.
This also means that some of our entrepreneurs are missing out on opportunities to be more influential because they believe they need to first become really successful before they start examining how to be effective influencers.

This sentiment is echoed by Gilan Gork, a South African mentalist and corporate speaker, who has been studying influence techniques for more than 18 years and has travelled around the world teaching people how to exert more persuasion in sales, marketing and leadership – without relying on any psychic abilities.

When working with leaders in South Africa, he finds that positional leadership has relied on more than is necessary. The result of this is a form of self-imposed glass ceiling on our business leaders because they limit their own ability to be effective.

The businesses that will stand out and outperform their competitors are those whose leaders use various levers beyond their position to influence people.

In his book Persuasion Games, Gork writes that the first step to increasing one’s effectiveness is to accept that if you are an influencer, then you are a leader – from the parent at home persuading their children and the employee influencing customers every day to the business owner who is interacting with various stakeholders every day.

The more that leaders become conscious of how to identify opportunities to influence and how to maximise them, the more effective they can be.
Our politicians are leading us at a time when they, too, need to convince the country – and the rest of the world – of this economy’s growth potential. However, few of these leaders are doing a good enough job of being persuasive to lead to the desired change.

In the case of entrepreneurs and small business owners, the ability to influence effectively is even more important. Every interaction takes on the tone of an attempt to influence someone to buy into your idea. Influencing new customers, suppliers, investors, partners, and employees becomes a daily task.

Instead of waiting for the time when they feel that they hold a position important enough to be influential, leaders ought to start being successful influencers today.

By doing so, a leader is building a business that is likely to have an edge over those whose leaders have yet to learn how to influence effectively and thus cannot transfer this important skill to their staff.

Gork has narrowed down being an effective influencer to three questions people want to be answered when we are attempting to influence them: Can I trust you? Do you care about me? Can you help me?

The ability to answer these questions effectively for your audience will set you apart from those who cannot.

An example of a leader who did this effectively is Meg Whitman, who took over as CEO of eBay in 1998 when it employed just 30 people and generated only $ 4 million (About R60 million today) in annual turnover.

Many were surprised that she spent most of her early days’ building relationships with all the staff in order to get a better understanding of what they did well and what motivated them – instead of focusing on what was being done wrong.

By the time Whitman had unveiled her vision and values for the business, everyone could believe in them because they felt connected to her and her vision. While she was influencing them, she gathered enough insight to successfully answer Gork’s three questions.

In just 10 years, Whitman grew eBay into a company with 15000 employees and an $8-billion annual turnover.

In the words of John Maxwell, leadership expert and author of the bestselling book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

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