Become a Balanced Leader, Exercise Your Influence

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How you can recognize and cultivate intangible skills to be a better AE.

Great CEOs affect the direction and success of organizations. Depending on the method, this skill is often described as leadership or influence.

This is the fifth in our series exploring intangible skills of great CEOs. The 10 intangible skills are actually five pairs that are mirror images and are exhibited differently by each CEO. In this column, I discuss the intangible skill pair of leadership and influence.

What is the skill of leadership?

CEOs with the skill of leadership give direction and inspire people to willfully follow a course they define.

In sessions I've conducted with search committees seeking a new CEO, leadership is usually the number one desired skill. For the most sophisticated organizations, it is not only desired but essential. It is fundamental to the organization accomplishing its strategic purpose. While there are challenges for the CEO to exercise leadership, it is the skill that can create dramatic change. The CEO skill of leadership is most obvious in execution. Leaders exercise their skill in a demonstrable way. Most leaders—as well as their followers—understand it is a skill of "push." With such a visible skill, the action of the CEO leader is swift. There is no waiting or long contemplation by experienced CEOs in offering direction or suggestions. Positive past experience gives them the comfort of quick action.

Developing leadership

There are several components to CEO leadership. The most powerful is the ability to set a quest worthy of pursuit. It must be practical, logical, and a stretch for the organization or staff, but not as far-reaching as a visionary CEO would propose. The leadership CEO is action-oriented and fully committed to accomplishing the goals by involving and motivating everyone in the organization. They are inspirational with a practical bias.

Leadership CEOs have the trait of being truthful, supportive, and ethical. They have earned the trust of elected volunteers, staff, and others involved with the association. As they encourage and motivate, they communicate clearly, frequently, and in detail.

Great CEO leaders acquire, organize, and motivate the best possible staff team. They are not threatened by hiring highly competent people in career positions and take great pleasure in others' success. They know how to leverage the success of the employee team—as well as the volunteer leadership team—to accomplish outstanding results.

There is also a measure of passion in leadership CEOs. However, it is passion well grounded in considerable thought about the end result and the timing, assets, and individuals involved.

But how can a CEO be a strong leader in an organization that has elected leaders? I recall in one recruiting session, an association officer said he wanted the new CEO to be a "small L" leader. This officer wanted to make certain the CEO's leadership style did not diminish the positions of the current president or other officers. This perception is a real challenge for REALTOR® association CEOs.

The ideal situation for the leadership CEO is to have the highest quality volunteers in top positions. "Actively recruit the very best members for key positions. Do that by tackling the big issues, the ones that have real impact in their world. It means taking risk, but it is much less of a problem with industry leaders," advises Karl Berron, CEO of the Indiana Association of REALTORS®.

The most successful CEOs do not display leadership arrogantly or aggressively. They are intentional leaders. They are focused on moving the organization forward in every possible way. But in this directive approach, they are still more visible than other CEOs.

Leadership does not mean you have all the answers, but that you are willing to ask the tough questions, accept input, and then take a public position. The CEO leader keeps the board and staff focused to address trends that are anticipated, but in the process is respectful, open, and listens to all opinions to make objective decisions,͟ says Ryan Conrad, CEO of the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS®.

What is the skill of influence?

Influence is the ability to sway others. The influencer does so subtly, without force or coercion.

Influence is a skill that operates quietly. It is a derivative of the ability to know the appropriate direction to take, either as an individual or an association, and is applied in a less dramatic fashion.

Highly successful CEOs with influence can operate in virtually any organization regardless of overall philosophy. This flexibility is attractive to many CEOs with the core skill, and it presents fewer challenges than being at the forefront of an issue.

Developing influence

Great CEOs with the skill of influence do not seek recognition, but rather the ability to get things done quietly. It is not a public skill.

Influence is more of a pull approach than confrontational. Influence CEOs tend to be unemotional and very factual in their presentations and arguments.

Influence CEOs practice their craft on a personal level. Although it can be routed through groups, the very quiet manner in which it is built is not easily transmitted in an open forum or large gathering. Though it takes time, influence accumulates through a series of individuals and, therefore, moves the group in a desired direction.

The drawback to influence is the time and investment necessary to get agreement. However, once completed, the agreements tend to be more reliable. Remember, the approach is built upon personal relationships and trust. Through the use of single contacts in personal influence, the effective CEO gradually builds consensus within a group.

A collaborative approach allows others to have input, to refine, and to improve the original ideas or concepts. There can even be rejection of an idea, but if presented effectively, the concept can grow organically.

An influential CEO relies on information-based decision-making and logical arguments. They believe decisions made in this manner produce longer-lasting results.

In many ways, the influence CEO takes a longer path. The process needs more input and consideration before opinions are stated. All sides and nuances of the debate must be considered. As Jarrod Grasso, CEO at the New Jersey REALTORS®, says, ͞You must listen, understand the art of compromise, and have patience.

In positioning themselves, CEOs think strategically about points to be made. They understand that the argument must be from the viewpoint of the one to be influenced. Influence CEOs appeal to the values and perceptions of the other person while thinking through every point and counterpoint. Also, they are careful to make sure that they are not too far removed from their own viewpoint.

In strategic preparation, the successful CEO researches the individuals targeted for influence. The knowledge collected is then applied to the approach and tactics. The more preparation, the better the potential result.

CEOs of influence like to have informal sessions and unstructured discussions on critical issues or new concepts. They like to be collaborative and inclusive with opinion leaders as they sort out and develop their own position.

Many of the CEOs with influence describe their approach as respecting all participants and listening intently to what is said—and what is not said. Some of them described influence as a process that must be honored before your comments are effective. Even if the discussion becomes intense or heated, influential CEOs remain calm. As Gary Clayton, CEO at the Illinois Association of REALTORS®, says, "Only you can control you."

Jerry Matthews' executive career spans more than 20 years as a REALTOR® state association CEO and more than 12 years as an industry consultant. His consulting practice focuses on facilitating change for executives and organizations.


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