What do Steve Jobs and Barack Obama have in common? They are influential, and you can be too


Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Source: TED.

A recent study by the Centre for Leadership Advantage (CLA) asked thousands of managers to identify the one leadership skill they most wanted to develop.

The answer was clear: leaders in every industry, at every stage of their career, said they wanted to improve their ability to influence.

In today’s complex business world, the ability to influence is critical to your success. Whether it is managing up, getting a promotion, convincing your stakeholders or gaining support from your team, influence matters.

One of the most surprising statistics we share in our workshops is the findings from a study carried out by Professor Albert Mehrabian, best known for his publications on the importance on verbal and non-verbal messages.

Mehrabian’s studies are based on experiments dealing with the communication of a person’s attitudes or feelings, and demonstrate how different elements of communication can influence a person’s likability.

According to Mehrabian, there are three elements that account differently for our liking of a person who puts forward a message concerning their feelings: words account for 7%, tone of voice accounts for 38%, and body language accounts for 55%.

For effective and meaningful communication about emotions, these three parts of the message need to support each other; they have to be “congruent”. This has become well known as the 7/38/55 rule.

Here are three powerful strategies largely focused on non-verbal communication that will help you increase your personal influence

1. Invest time in building your executive presence

Executive presence is consistently rated as the number one most important skill to be an effective leader, surpassing technical and functional expertise.

According to a new study by the Center for Talent Innovation, “executive presence” accounts for 26% of what it takes to get promoted.

But what exactly is it? Some people call it “gravitas” or the “wow factor”.

I like to define it as the ability to project confidence and communicate clearly. It is how you command the room and the art of ensuring people listen to you when you speak.

Some easy ways to start building your executive presence skills are: speaking up and voicing your opinion in meetings; practicing speaking with authority rather than“uptalk”; and using positive body language gestures to have a powerful effect on the other person’s perception of you.

2. Develop a consistent and memorable personal image aligned to your own brand.

When you think about people with famous brands such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Margaret Thatcher or Lady Gaga, you will relate to the fact they all have a unique and memorable personal image that they are known for.

Steve Jobs was consistently memorable for his white T-shirt and jeans to align to the simplicity of Apple’s brand, “removing complexity from your every day life”.

Margaret Thatcher, known as the “Iron Lady”, was memorable for wearing the colour blue, her high coiffed hair, and her signature hats and handbags.

Barack Obama became known as the “thinking president.” In an interview with Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair, Obama said he always wore the same suits in either blue or black. He said that he had too many important decisions to make to worry about what he was wearing every day.

And finally, Lady Gaga, one of the most influential women in the world, is known for her outrageous fashion sense, and continually evolving outfits to convey her uniqueness and innovation.

Developing a consistent and memorable personal image is just as important in the business world in order to stand out and to amplify your value to the world.

3. Show your emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to understand and manage your emotions. It is also a skill that is starting to be taken more seriously in the workplace because it has been shown to have pragmatic benefits, such as fostering better collaboration among employees and a happier workplace.

When you break it down, influence between people is really someone’s ability to affect the way the other person thinks and behaves. This includes how you position your messaging, and how you relate to the other person.

You can show good EQ by dialling up your empathy, asking open questions, not making assumptions, and getting your head into the other person’s way of thinking.

This article was first published on the Atomic Inspire website and was updated on Wednesday, August 12, 2020, to clarify details about Albert Mehrabian’s study. 

NOW READ: “Know your worth”: How to kick the people-pleasing habit and strengthen your business at the same time

NOW READ: “It was never about the shoes”: How Rollie Nation founder Vince Lebon created a global brand


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