The 2nd EHL Women in Leadership (WIL) Workshop Series took place on Jan. 15, 2019. Alexia Muteke-Ceppi, Senior Consultant at EHL Advisory Services, shared her expertise on the topic of “Expanding Your Influence”, gearing her talk specifically to faculty and staff.
“Influence” is a powerful word that is increasingly trendy. Often we hear that it is important to exercise influence rather than a top-down control approach to motivate others to achieve their goals. This is not surprising as influence is an essential component of leadership, defined as “the ability to influence a group of people towards the achievement of a vision or set of goals”. However, what does “influence” specifically mean in the business world, and do we really use it in the right way, to the right person, at the right time?
To gain insight into this topic, we interviewed one of the participants, Christophe Laurent, EHL Values Ambassador, who also has extensive knowledge and experience in the hospitality industry.
Based on the key takeaways from the workshop, what is influence to you?
Christophe Laurent (CL): Influence is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something (i.e. an institution, a corporate culture). As we learned from the workshop, this impact can come through a variety of sources: including the message itself (what you say and the way it is delivered), the source (do your experienced skills and knowledge make you credible?), the audience (will the tactic persuade the specific person?) and the timing (is it the right to make this argument?). Influence is therefore not innate, it is a capacity, a skill that everybody has the ability to develop and eventually master.
How important is this soft skill in the hospitality industry?
CL: Influence is a critical skill. It is definitely not a given, especially at the start of your career. Yet, it is a skill that you should develop through practice. In the hospitality industry, the operational side mainly requires practical skills and influence is not really part of the game. However, at a management level (where you will be expected to reach certain targets and most importantly to generate revenue), influence plays a major role in achieving your goals. At the beginning of your career, you might hardly think about influence but you should not lose sight of it. As with any other skill, it takes time to develop the capacity to influence. Bear in mind that this skill will help you be more effective to accomplish your goals.
How can you exercise influence on others effectively without being perceived as a manipulator?
CL: Based on my experience, it is crucial to understand that when you exercise influence, you are doing it for others too. If you only seek to influence others for your own benefit, it becomes a dictatorship. You need to be a good listener, taking into consideration other people’s needs. You must be aware of cultural differences too as you cannot use influence in Switzerland the same way you would in China. Most importantly, you need to act as an example, walk the talk, and people will follow you as they recognize that you are a frontrunner. By doing so, people will see that you are doing something that is valuable for them. My own thoughts about influence were in line with one of the most important takeaways from the workshop: Personal influence is based on three characteristics – warmth (be likeable by being interested in others and praising them sincerely), competence (expertise, ability), and trustworthiness (consistency between behavior and action, lacking hidden agendas).
Do you see any key differences between how men and women exercise influence?
CL: Not really, I don’t think it is a question of gender. Women are able to exercise influence as much as men. Influence is about leadership, not gender per se. Of course, there is an impact on how people might perceive you due to male-female stereotypes. But women can and are effective influencers too.
What would you recommend young female talents to develop their influence skills?
CL: This is a difficult question since I am not a woman and cannot put myself in her shoes or frame of mind. However, what I can say to our female students is that they should be well aware that people evaluate on the basis of first impressions. Even if you are well prepared, the way you present yourself matters too. One thing that is crucial for you to keep in mind is that people should appreciate more your professionalism than your physical appearance. Influence is a complex concept, especially for young adults and perhaps even more for young women, who might feel intimidated by the majority of men in leadership positions. However, as highlighted in the answers above, it is crucial to remember that influence is more strongly related to leadership and professional demeanor than gender. This also means that influence is not innate and everyone willing to, can and should, develop this skill.