influential leader

7 Skills to Be a More Influential Leader

We’ve all seen it. Someone gets up to speak at a conference or team meeting, and people reach for their cell phones to check email, and another person gets up to speak and the room sits, completely captivated.  There are those that others go to for advice or a listening ear, and those who never have a visitor to their desk. Which is the influential leader?

There are communication qualities and skills that we use to help ensure people will listen and be influenced to take action based on our words as well as skills that, when used, encourage people to open up to them and share more readily.

Here are 7 skills that, if developed, can help you become a more influential leader:

1. Speak with Authority

There is a big difference between someone who uses language such as, “I think we might want to move in a different direction” and one who says. “We need to move in a different direction, and here’s why.” “I’m pretty sure the client said they were not happy” versus “The client was not happy, but here’s what we are proposing to do.”

Speaking in strong statements and not using language of uncertainty will cause people to listen differently. This takes practice (and sometimes scripting out prior to a meeting) to feel comfortable using this more assertive language. It’s not to say you have to be demanding, but speak in actionable terms not “I think” and “We might want to.” If you are unsure whether you are using weak language or assertive language, you can ask for feedback from a manager or trusted co-worker, or you can bring a digital recorder to a meeting to capture a few of your conversations and listen for yourself.

2. Be a Person of Your Word

Trust will open the ears of people around you just like distrust shuts down channels of communication before you ever open your mouth.  If you make a mistake or cannot follow through on something you committed to, admit it.  Apologize for letting the other person or people down.  This creates a relationship.

3. Speak Up

Share your thoughts and ideas more often. Being an expert in something does you no good if you don’t share what you have learned. When people know that you have experience, they typically want to hear it.  They will listen to someone they know has expertise in an area they have questions or problems in. You can be perceived as an expert outside of your work environment by sharing on social media sites, writing white papers, speaking at conferences, and this carries into the workplace, allowing others to listen to your ideas with more authority.

4. Be Vulnerable

Sharing only your success stories can make you appear arrogant, which can shut down communication with others.  After all, who wants to share a mistake or a problem with someone who is perfect?  On the other hand, sharing your failures and “lessons learned, shows a more vulnerable and honest side that creates a safe environment for others to open up and share their mistakes with you.

5. Ask for (and Listen to) the Ideas of Others

By asking for and showing value for the ideas of those around you, you create a space that allows ideas to come forth and not be hidden out of fear or rejection. Make bad ideas just as good as good ideas.

6. Take a Listening Posture

Small children know that we are not listening if we are not looking at them. They will grab your face and make you look at them.  Sadly at a certain age, we learn that the side of a head is acceptable, and in business, the backs of computers and in the glow of a mobile device we will have to speak. A wonderful skill to improve your professional relationships, as well as those at home, is your ability to stop what you are doing and take a posture of good listening. This means to turn away from your devices and turn your body to face the person speaking.  If you are on the phone with someone, turn yourself away from those things that will distract you.

Make bad ideas just as good as good ideas. @KarenKeller

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7. Be All There

We know that just because someone is facing us, it does not guarantee they are listening, so fully listen for understanding.  To prevent your mind from wandering or from formulating the response you want to give, make yourself listen for understanding.  What is the other person’s point of view on this?  Why are they worked up about this topic?

Do not interrupt to correct or to finish the person’s sentences.  Listen fully, until they are finished and then see if you have all the information correctly by paraphrasing.  “Let me see if I understand you. You feel …  Is that correct?”  When you accurately paraphrase someone, they immediately like you more, trust you more and love coming to you with their ideas.

Select one or two of these seven skills that you will focus on to improve over the next 30 days. Select skills that you believe will help you be a more influential leader.  Thinking about them will not make the improvement. It is only in the application of these qualities that you will see positive changes.



Karen Keller, Ph.D., CEO of Karen Keller International, Inc., is author and creator of the Keller Influence Indicator® (KII®). She is a clinical psychologist and Master Certified Coach specializing in influence and human behavior. Dr. Keller develops programs, materials and resources relating to the Art of Influence. Her latest influence report, SOCR®, incorporates a person’s Seven Influence Traits® as related to 5 Organizational Competencies. She is passionate at helping people and companies develop their influence potential and an influence culture. Dr. Keller speaks to groups around the globe about the impact of influence in business and relationships. Contact her at or

  • Elton J Colbert

    I like that you included vulnerability. I think that is a huge quality that is lacking in the way we communicate not only in person but but also on social.

    • Karen Keller, Ph.D.

      Elton – vulnerability can be both a strength and a weakness, depending on how you present yourself. I agree, that not taking the risk to be vulnerable leads to missing some pretty great opportunities!

  • Eve

    Good article. I would add to the section on Speaking with Authority, that tone and demeanor are as important as the words we use. A tone that is definitive may not invite collaboration or dialogue. In order to garner respect, how we say things is just as critical as what we say.

    • Radrman

      Words = 7% of the impact to a listener
      Tone/inflection = 38% of the impact to a listener
      Body Motion = 55% of the impact to a listener

      Communication is like a performance. You have to sell and the words are only a small part of closing the deal – be it whatever.

  • Denise M

    Outstanding list of important qualities, I would like to ad a leader should be Transparent. Employees want to work for true humans and when emotion is shown when felt…you gain a lot of
    Buy-in from your team.

  • Richard Madison

    Excellent article and very well written. I work with a business school ( and I find that point no.5 is something I think is often overlooked, and many managers don’t like to hear from their teams. Getting ideas from others has two benefits, firstly new and good ideas are brought into a project, and secondly, the employee feels valued.

    • Amy McCloskey Tobin

      Richard, I once worked at a company that had a monthly Big Idea Committee – every single employee was encouraged to submit ideas. If you idea was implemented, you received a substantial cash award. It REALLY made us a great company.

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