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Characteristics of an Influencer

Would you rather be a LEADER or an INFLUENCER? Are they the same? These terms are often used interchangeably. John Maxwell actually defines leadership as "influence, nothing more, nothing less". While I appreciate the simplicity, if you have one, it doesn't mean you automatically have the other, especially in the workplace.

For the sake of context, let's define leader as a titled position with direct reports, elevated responsibility, and decision-making power. Influencer is defined as the capacity to affect behavior, actions, and opinions of others.

Don't mistake Leadership for Influence

With a leadership position, you have what's called positional power, meaning, people follow you because the title dictates it. This is level 1 on Maxwell's 5 Levels of Leadership. It takes investing in relationships to change the level of influence with the people that you lead.

While a higher position is something to aspire to, it's the beginning of a new road, not the end of the journey.

When working with clients who reach a hard-earned elevated position, it's always a time to celebrate the win. The challenge, however, is that insecurities come along and even get magnified! Now there are higher expectations, responsibilities, and potentially a brighter spotlight. In addition, you have a new set of peer relationships to build. Building influence is necessary to be an effective leader, but you can be very influential without a titled position.

Characteristics of an Influencer

Builds a Foundation of Trust

It's not just about the job, the tasks, metrics, and outcome, an influencer takes time to strengthen interpersonal connections beyond what others can do for them. They engage through active listening and thought-provoking questions that reframe an issue, a challenge, or the status quo.

Builds Confidence

Because they've learned to trust their own instincts, influencers have the ability to create an atmosphere of getting things done. When challenges arise, they provide insight and guidance but let you to figure it out. They aren't attached to the outcome and don't make it about them.

Has Presence

Presence is the ability to project a sense of ease, poise, and self-assurance which inspires confidence in self and others. How you show up matters and influencers know when and how to use their presence. They don't feel the need to always take up the biggest space in the room and are content to give others the spotlight.


An influencer builds and uses their network effectively. They know how to get answers without being caught up in having to be the one who knows all the answers. They are a source for others because they are generous with knowledge and experience.

Leadership does not automatically mean influence, and influencers tend to be more effective leaders. The good news is that influence is a skill that can be learned and developed. Start by being intentional about how you want people to experience you and identify the gaps that need to be strengthened. This will provide a starting point in growing your own influence.

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