In observing influential people there are certain traits which they have in common. And I have since come to appreciate that influence can be learnt and mastered. I see influence as like a spider’s web. An influential leader starts by having influence on a small group (the immediate team members), thereafter they grow influence (and respect) among their peers, and thereafter they become influential to their bosses and ultimately society or the industry in which they function. This is the multiplier effect of a spider’s web. The spider’s web effect works effectively, especially for the shy or introverted.

TAKING A POSITION: Influential leaders are bold and take a position on matters. They don’t sit on the fence. They stand for something and their teams know exactly what it is that they stand for. They also mean what they say, and there is always clarity of direction. By your team knowing what it is you stand for, they too start advocating for the same message in your absence. That’s when you start gaining influence – when your message is being advanced by your team without you being present.

INFLUENCERS LOBBY THEIR BOSSES: Lobbying is a form of persuasion and influential leaders lobby their bosses or the senior leadership to gain support for their ideas before trying to sell their ideas to a larger audience. The skill of persuasion is a learnt skill. In it, you learn to negotiate and to compromise. Influential leaders have senior leadership showing support for them in the presence of their peers. This gives weight to their views.

THE SOCRATIC METHOD: According to Dale Carnegie in his book How to win friends and influence people, the Socratic method is one of the effective methods that can be used during negotiations. It is described as ‘In talking with people, don’t begin by discussing the things on which you differ. Begin by emphasising – and keep on emphasising – the things on which you agree. Get the other person saying “Yes, yes” at the outset.’ This is the Socratic method. This method takes practice but yields positive results when applied genuinely.

INFLUENCE COMES WITH RESPONSIBILITY: The more influential you are, the more reflective you need to be as a leader. This means growing roots on your feet to keep you grounded when making decisions. Influence is neither good nor bad – it is how you use it and what you use it for that matters. Each leader is called for a higher purpose than him- or herself. Influence should be used for the betterment of the organisation and the society in which it operates.


  • Find strength in numbers – align with others of similar views.
  • Limit the areas you would like to influence and focus your energy on them.
  • Acknowledge and reward good work and great ideas from your team.
  • Choose influence over serenity* – don’t just cope with a situation, use influence to make a difference.
  • Make the undesirable desirable*– certain roles may not seem sexy until someone assumes them and makes them desirable.
  • Have your peers consider your views and opinion before taking decisions.


* From Kerry Paterson, Influencer

Author: Gugu Mtetwa CA(SA) is a Non-executive Director