Influence – especially in the workplace – is about setting an example that inspires others to do as you do. The keyword here is, inspire. Influencing others isn’t about pressuring people to submit to your requests. Nor is it about manipulation.
So, how does a leader influence a team to work towards a vision, share their passion, and to get things done?
If you’re a sensitive high-achiever (or what I call a Sensitive Striver), then you already have the tools that other less-sensitive leaders may not. Your team will understand that you care about their values as much as your own, because of your ability to read them and to feel how they are feeling.
Your strength in empathy gives you a boost because you know what matters to your team. This creates a space of connection, understanding, and trust. With that as your foundation, your success in influencing as a leader will shine.
Leadership by influence: 4 essential aspects to increasing your influence in the workplace
Once you have a solid base of trust and connection with your team, you can strengthen your ability to influence and further your success as a leader. Here are a few key skills to increase your level of influence:
1. Be transparent
To increase your influence in the workplace, you must remain open and honest. It’s important to allow others to voice their questions and concerns and to answer them with transparency. Being honest is easy when there is good news to share, yet remaining 100% honest when the news is bad can be difficult.
The best leaders are transparent in all instances. If a question is posed that you are not prepared to answer, say, “I want to be sure to have all of the correct information before I answer that. Let me check the facts and get back to you by the end of the day.” Be sure to follow-up as soon as you can address their question. Answer with positivity and openness, and you will achieve a team committed to you and your goals.
As a Sensitive Striver, if problems do arise, your ability to communicate with empathy will be a guiding light for the rest of the team.
2. Inspire loyalty
Inspiring a sense of commitment from your team is vital to successful leadership and influence. This can be accomplished by motivating and improving the working lives of your employees. Look for and speak to their accomplishments. Understand that your success also lies in the quality of people that you help advance within the company.
If someone in your group is going above and beyond in their role, acknowledge them. The pride you take in your team’s successes not only motivates your team but inspires deep loyalty to you as their leader, which is the best use of your influence in the workplace.
3. Lead by example
Sensitive Strivers don’t fall short on determination. Lead by example by staying confident and focused on the end goal. A leader crippled by self-doubt or deterred by setbacks sets an uneasy tone and can contribute to chaos among the team. When a problem emerges (which you have most likely played out in your head), keep a steadfast and positive attitude. This is important, though difficult, especially if your reputation is on the line.
If you see yourself struggling to maintain or regain positivity, take a moment to remind yourself that you can change your mindset. Your attitude is your choice, and your team will mirror that behavior. Turning obstacles into unprecedented opportunities generates a collective calm that is nothing short of inspiring.
4. Beware the perfectionism pitfall
Sensitive Strivers tend to be perfectionists. Your impeccable attention to detail and ambition to keep going until it’s “flawless” contribute to your success. Yet, at other times, your need to do things “right” can fuel anxiety. As Brené Brown says, “Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there’s no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal.”
Carrying your expectation of perfection over to the team you are trying to lead will decrease your influence in the workplace and chip away at the group’s morale. To avoid fallout, stay focused on what is working, and what you can control. More likely than not, the end goal is still intact.
The ability to influence others is one of the most essential qualities a leader can have. Taking the time to learn the steps of influencing others intelligently and ethically, will improve your success as a leader, and that of the company’s.
Sensitive Strivers, you have a leg up in the world of influencing people. Your high emotional intelligence, your passion, and your drive will set you apart. You will be a leader who brings people together with a common goal and will inspire your team to get things done and done well.
I began my freelancing career while I was still a journalism undergrad and held numerous side gigs throughout my 20s and early 30s as I climbed the ladder in social media, content, and marketing roles. Finally, at 32 I decided to leave my full-time career behind to give freelance writing and marketing consulting a try.
Of course, it wasn’t – and still isn’t – always easy. I’m continuously learning how to run my business more efficiently, to set both my clients and myself up for success.
Along the way, I’ve definitely had some challenges. Here are some of the key financial lessons I’ve learned, that cost me thousands of dollars in wasted time and potential lost income,my advice for avoiding these kinds of issues altogether.
1. Not seeking out partial payment upfront for new smaller clients
Many of my initial freelance gigs were with major companies, such as Adobe, Zillow, and Target, with formal processes for handling everything from freelance contracts to the invoicing and payment process. While everything was largely on their terms (not mine), I almost never had to worry about chasing down payments.
It wasn’t until I began branching out to work with smaller companies, startups, and solopreneurs that I learned the hard way what I needed to do to ensure I’d be fairly paid.
One of the most important lessons: Whenever possible, when onboarding new, smaller clients, I ask for a 50% deposit upfront for the first project before I begin working.
I began to do this late in 2019, after I’d created a social media strategy, a content calendar, and social media posts for a startup marketing agency client who ghosted me. First, the project was put on hold. Next, my contact stopped responding to my calls and emails about the project and invoicing for the work I’d done. Then the in-house email they’d created for me stopped working. I tried various routes to track down payment, to no avail.
This may be an extreme example, but if I’d asked for a partial payment upfront I’d have $1,000 extra dollars – at least 50% pay for the work I completed.
Since then, I now ask for deposits upfront. In an initial introductory call, I say something along the lines of, “My terms for kicking off new projects with new clients include a 50% payment upfront before I begin working on the assignment.”
Now that I ask for partial payments upfront, I’m a lot less worried about getting paid and can focus on producing high-quality work.
2. Participating in multiple rounds of interviews before confirming budget and rates
When I first started freelancing, I had mixed success securing work with new clients. Some knew what they were looking for, what they were willing to pay, and that their needs and budget aligned well with my skills and compensation expectations.
For others, it seemed like I had to jump through a series of hoops – calls, test projects,, and writing proposals – before I even could find out if I was a good fit. And most times after investing this time upfront, I simply never heard back.
For one B2B startup that was looking for social media support, I went through four rounds of interviews and completed an unpaid content strategy test. In total, I probably spent six to 10 hours pursuing this client before they ultimately went with someone else who charged less.
These days whenever I get in contact with a potential new client, I thank them for their interest and ask them about their budget right away before even getting on a call. Here’s a sample reply I’ve used to save myself and potential clients time and quickly eliminate opportunities that aren’t a fit:
Thanks for reaching out and for your kind words. The opportunity to collaborate with [Company name] sounds exciting, and I’d be interested in learning more about the chance to help out with your needs. Can you share what budget you have in mind [for XYZ project] to make sure we’re in the same range?
3. Doing unpaid tests instead of paid test projects or sharing my most relevant samples
After years of freelancing, I now better recognize the value of my time, experience, and capabilities. As a result, I only pursue opportunities with clients who will accept my most relevant samples or are willing to pay me for a trial project.
Completing paid tests helps me land steady copywriting and content marketing work, and also helps me get a feel for whether the projects are a fit for my interests and skills.
Even if you’re just getting started, you can create sample work for your own website or social media. Platforms like Medium are great ways to demonstrate knowledge of a particular topic or in-demand skill and may even generate inbound leads after people see your work.
4. Not sharing the most relevant work samples
When I’m chatting with a potential new client, I try to share with them the most relevant examples of my past work. I drill down to samples that highlight my experience with a similar:
Type of company (whether a B2B business, B2C brand, nonprofit, etc.)
Size company (such as startup versus corporate)
Type of skill or service they’re looking for
For instance, if a company is a mid-size B2C brand in the wellness space looking for general marketing support, I can share samples from my time working for two healthcare startups, marketing for three health publications, and serving as the social media lead at the New York City Marathon.
The more niche a company is, the greater relevance and industry expertise they’re usually looking for.
5. Being too generic when pitching to new clients
“I’m a seasoned [freelancer offering XYZ general skills] with X years of experience who has worked for XYZ well-known [but general] companies, and I’d like to help [name of company].”
That’s an OK pitch, but with some simple tweaks it could be a lot more effective.
After all, potential clients don’t all necessarily care about the work you’ve done for just any other company, no matter how much you name drop or refer to your number of years of experience. That’s because just like any other type of customer, they don’t want to be sold on your product features.
Instead, they want to be sold on the benefits of your product – that is, the benefits of working with you as a freelancer – and be assured that you’re the best person to meet their needs. So, flip your pitch from being focused on you and your general experience, and instead center it on the company’s specific needs and how your expertise matches up.
Generic pitches similar to the one above have cost me landing paying clients, so I’ve updated my pitch to ensure I’m focusing on the specific needs of the customer, not just stating accomplishments to be impressive. Here’s what I say now:
I see that [Company] is looking for [specific type of freelancer] with an understanding of [industry niche, such as SaaS] and [specific skills, such as content strategy] I’d be happy to help with your [specific needs]!
I have worked with [well-known companies within a given niche] and have [specific skills you’re looking for]. Here are samples of my work [specific to the company, industry, niche, and skills desired].
When I was in elementary school, all of my grade cards came back with great scores and really positive comments. However, there always was the one little comment “She’s too bossy and overly talkative.”
I had a big personality and used that to my advantage from a young age. Interestingly enough, as I transitioned into high school, my grade cards began to read “She’s a great leader and has great class participation.”
I wondered if my “bossiness” and excessive talking had become more direct and efficient, or if I was just perceived differently by elementary school teachers versus high school teachers. I’ll never know, but one thing I do know is the detrimental effects that the word “bossy” can have on a young girl.
It’s discouraging to young ladies and makes them feel as if they cannot be assertive. How can girls aspire to be politicians, lawyers, and judges if we shoot down their leadership traits from the very beginning? Several women leaders in medicine spoke with me about their “bossy” experiences, and how they’ve learned to use this trait successfully throughout their careers.
1. Assertive women may have to make adjustments to earn respect
“I had to learn how to lower the tone of my voice and smile more to not come off as controlling,” said Dr. Sharon Gustowski.
Gustowski is an osteopathic doctor based in Houston, Texas who is certified in neuromusculoskeletal and osteopathic manipulative medicine.
As a young child, she was independent and assertive, which helped her to gain the respect and trust of her elders who felt comfortable leaning on her for more responsibilities. As doctor however, she felt this trait and the way she carried herself alienated her peers, because it seemed she came off as snobby and unfriendly.
To offset these perceptions, she made adjustments to her tone and mannerisms so she was more inviting. Constantly being aware of your delivery can be exhausting, but she said it felt like she had to do it to earn respect and not be ostracized.
As a current medical student, Gustowski’s account helped me understand that assertive women may have to adjust facial expressions, hand movements, volume, and tone to be heard in male certain dominated atmospheres. Without these adjustments, their colleagues may get caught up in the delivery and not the message which hinders progress, which could create strain and frustration.
2. Becoming a leader comes with growing pains
The road to becoming a good leader isn’t straight and easy. In fact, becoming a leader will probably include quite a few setbacks before successes. Dr. Candace Walkley, an internal medicine physician based in Conroe, Texas, has experienced being “bossier than her boss.”
Her assertive personality is either perceived as go getter or too assertive. Being a go-getter creates great work relationships, but being “too assertive” can create tension which can interfere with communication and expectations.
Walkley refers to her assertiveness as “the sword with two sides.” These experiences have helped her shape her leadership skills to better assess and control herself in interactions, but not without a few bumps in the road with coworkers and colleagues.
A leader is nothing without a team behind them. The best way to gain a team’s trust and get them to work hard is to listen more than one speaks. This is especially important when working in the medical field because of all the different teams and personnel that could be working one case. Without hearing what they have to say, a leader won’t be very successful.
Dr. Peggy Taylor is an OBGYN who ran her own practice for years before eventually selling it to retire. She now teaches and picks up shifts when needed.
Although considered bossy by some when opening her own practice, she said she “never wanted to be seen as really my way or the highway. I took more of a teamwork approach: I know I’m the leader and I make the final decision, but I want their input.”
Taylor says she put in the extra effort to make her employees feel respected and heard, and she listened to their suggestions and implemented them when they were appropriate.
4. Assertiveness is necessary in serious situations
As physicians, these women are not just responsible for day to day operations. They are responsible for human lives, which means, occasionally, that assertiveness is absolutely necessary.
“I try to only bring this trait out in its full glory when I’m supervising people or when a situation is clearly dangerously chaotic – where a leader must emerge for safety,” said Walkley.
Taylor also put patients at the front of the helm when it came time to be the boss. She made decisions that her staff did not always like, but at the end of the day, they benefited the patients.
There are times to be laid back, but when serious decisions have to be made about someone’s health, these bosses in medicine know how to get the job done. Gustowski learned to fully accept this duality of silliness and seriousness in the job, and when to switch back and forth. The ability to turn it on and off is powerful in a job where things can go from good to bad in the blink of an eye.
5. Good leaders care and create lasting relationships
The fun part about being a good leader is being able to create long-lasting relationships with employees. However, this only happens when employees feel like they matter and physicians care about them as people.
Women leaders in medicine may have an advantage because many are natural nurturers at home and in society, and bring that attribute to work.
Dr. Mary Manis, a family medicine doctor in Conroe, Texas, made sure to keep up with her employees by asking them about their families and personal details they shared with her. This helped her develop relationships that lasted far beyond any work situation.
Taylor kept the same staff for over 20 years because she created such a family friendly environment.
As a mom, she understood the stressors of having children and allowed employees to bring their children to work when they were not able to go to school. Small acts like these help create fulfilling, long-lasting bonds between boss and employee.
“I would’ve loved to have found a woman boss or mentor, but that never happened,” said Manis.
While she did have a great relationship with a former male mentor and boss, Manis says it was disappointing to not find a woman boss to support her during her medical career.
As a medical student myself, I’m fortunate enough to have
Manis, among many other women, as my mentors. I hope that as more women enter medicine and learn the same lessons as the women in this article, they too can find and be a mentor to other women leaders in medicine.
7. Leadership skills can emerge at any point in life
Dr. Ouida Collins, a family medicine physician in Conroe, Texas, has been an introvert her entire life. Still, she says there were times early in her medical education journey when she had to be vocal and assertive.
“What made me stand up a little more is in a couple of classes, if you were a woman or didn’t fit the characteristics of those in leadership positions, they kind of pushed you to the side,” Collins said. “I was working on a project with another guy in the group and he told me ‘you need to do this’ and that and I said, ‘no, I don’t.’ That’s not how this works. That was the beginning of the pushback.”
Women in medicine often deal with being silenced or pushed aside in such a male-dominated arena. Patients may think they are the nurse and some male counterparts don’t respect them the same way as male physicians. But, no matter how old you are or your personality type, when it’s time to speak up for what’s right, you have to.
At the end of the day, Collins always had her paperwork in order and did her job, which gave her the confidence to assert herself regardless how others reacted to her firmness. She too has learned to tailor her leadership skills and always falls back on doing what’s right for her and her patients.
Disclaimer: These views and opinions are of the individual physicians and the writer and in no way representative of their employers.
Carole Zimmer has been a journalist for 30 years and is the host of an award-winning podcast called Now What? which features curated conversations with well-known people, from Jane Fonda and Katie Hill.
During the pandemic, those conversations have moved online, leading to intimate chats from famous living rooms all around the country and lessons about how to handle adversity during challenging times.
Here, she shares parts of her discussions with Jane Fonda, Julie Taymor, Ken Burns, Ann Patchett, Katie Hill, and Oliver Stone.
The pandemic has turned our lives upside down, bringing many unwanted consequences along with it. It’s limited our travel plans, eliminated our dinner parties, and left us missing a warm hug and a friendly kiss. But there is one positive aspect: Many of us now have more time. This has turned out to be a boon for my award-winning “Now What?” podcast. With less to do, many people I’ve always wanted to talk to now agree to a conversation, especially if all they have to do to connect is walk into their living room and click on a Zoom link .
The downside of that ease is that you always lose something special when you’re not in the same room as the person you’re speaking to. I’m so glad that I got the chance to talk to Norman Lear in 2017 in his spacious Beverly Hills office which is filled with photos from the legendary television shows he created over the last half century. I would also have missed the chance to sit in a comfortable chair in Carl Reiner’s living room, the same chair where Reiner’s best friend Mel Brooks used to sink into when he came over for his nightly dinners. Those experiences unfortunately could never be replicated in cyberspace.
But whatever form it takes, getting the chance to talk with Jane Fonda, Ken Burns, Oliver Stone, and others was a treat I treasure. They have stories to tell about what happens when you follow your dreams, overcome failures, and manage to navigate all the bumps in the road during challenging times. Even though we may not meet back up in person, their advice rings even more true during this uncertain year.
1. Actress and activist Jane Fonda on feeling bad and finding meaning
During her long career, Jane Fonda has emerged as the kind of person who not only talks about the problems we face on the planet, but tries to do something about them too.
Jane’s father Henry was Hollywood royalty, one of the country’s most successful and well-known actors. At 23, Jane made her acting debut on Broadway, and has since appeared in more than 45 movies and won two Academy Awards. Jane was in her 30s when she began protesting the Vietnam War and made a trip to the war-torn Asian country that earned her the name of Hanoi Jane.
Now at 82, Fonda has been leading a movement against the ravages of climate change that have resulted in five arrests for civil disobedience. Her book “What Can I Do?: My Path from Climate Despair to Action” tells the story about her involvement in the social causes that changed the course of her life.
“I spent the first 30 years of my life totally uninvolved, unaware, hedonistic, and miserable. I didn’t know why I was put on earth. My life had no meaning, and I was not very happy,” Fonda said in our October 2020 interview when I asked her why she chooses to speak out publicly about controversial political issues. “Because of the Vietnam War, because of what US soldiers told me about what was really happening in Vietnam, I decided to leave that life of mine and become an activist, and when that happened the depression lifted and I felt that my life had meaning and I’ve been trying to get better at it for 60 years. I’m a work in progress.”
Taymor has also found success on the big screen with films like “Frida” about the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and her tempestuous relationship with Diego Rivera. Taymor’s current film, “The Two Glorias,” explores the life of feminist icon Gloria Steinem.
But looming large in Taymor’s career is a controversial Broadway production of “Spiderman: Turn off The Dark. The blockbuster musical has the distinction of being the most expensive show ever mounted on Broadway. In 2011, Taymor was fired from Spiderman after a preview period marked by technical mishaps and negative reviews. Taymor says it was her experience with Spiderman that helped her to come to terms with failure.
“I went to India right after the ‘Spiderman’ debacle, if you want to call it that,” she said, adding the incident caused her to reevaluate where she wanted to go with her career. “It is true that going into dark places makes you see light in a different way… people get proud of scars for a reason; it shows you’ve lived.”
3. Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns on the lessons of history in hard times
When I spoke with Ken Burns he was in his New Hampshire home in May 2020, he was thinking about how the pandemic has changed his life. Burns, who is probably the best-known documentary filmmaker in this country, says the global health crisis has made him appreciate every moment he gets to spend with his four daughters. And he’s cooking more, having become a master of the grill with his special recipe for chicken with maple syrup.
Burns is working on multiple projects at one time juggling subject matter that ranges from Ernest Hemingway to the Revolutionary War. One of his best-known documentaries is about the Vietnam War; he also created the documentary series “The Civil War” and traces his own lineage back to Colonial Americans who were Loyalists during the American Revolution.
Burns says he’s always been drawn to history rather than fiction and spent a lot of time reading the encyclopedia when he was growing up.
“It is the ultimate cliché to say that history repeats itself. It has never, ever repeated itself. There has never been an event that was exactly an event from before. Nor are we condemned to repeat what we don’t remember,” he said. “We understand the hopeful impulse of that, but it’s just not true. almost everything is rhyming in the present. I remain kind of optimistic because history gives you a little bit of perspective and perspective in the end is all you really need. Each event provides itself with certain antecedents that provide you with some kind of perspective.”
4. Writer Ann Patchett on getting stuck and powering through
Ann Patchett is the best-selling author of eight novels including “Bel Canto” and “Commonwealth.” Her latest book, “The Dutch House” was a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Patchett’s love of writing is rivaled by her love of reading and her support of independent bookstores. She co-owns the famous Parnassus bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee, and says the store continues to do a brisk online business during the pandemic and is “part of our community as never before.”
Throughout the pandemic, Patchett has appeared on the Parnassus Books Instagram account where she offers recommendations about what to read. She often wears a ball gown or a cocktail dress for the occasion because “the alternative was staying in yoga pants for the rest of my life.” Patchett points out that since many us now have more uncluttered time, it’s a great opportunity to take a deep dive into books like “War and Peace” and “David Copperfield.”
Patchett hasn’t decided what her next writing project will be but she knows she’ll have to jump through hoops to see it through. “I spend a long time thinking about a book before I sit down and start to write it,” she said when she spoke to me in April 2020 from a closet in her Nashville home.
“And then when I finally do sit down, which is the most miserable part, so I get the book all worked out in my head and then I sit down. I’ll maybe sit down for 15 minutes a day. It’s like sitting on a hot stove. It’s just miserable. By the time I’m writing the end of the book, I can sit at my desk for 12 or 14 hours a day, so there’s no rhyme or reason… I actually don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe that there are problems that are very hard and maybe some problems that are not solvable, but if you sit down and you can’t write and you say, ‘Well, I’m blocked’ that means that there is something external that’s happening to you. My husband is a doctor and he doesn’t get doctor’s block… he doesn’t ever get to say, ‘Oh, I can’t solve that problem because I’m blocked,’ so I just don’t ever say that.”
5. Former Congresswoman Katie Hill on overcoming scandal and the everlasting exposure of nude photos
Katie Hill was 31 when she was elected to Congress from a district in California that had been Republican for many years. It was the 2018 midterm elections that brought Hill to Washington along with other young women like Lauren Anderson and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Hill was thrilled to be in the company of a revitalized House of Representatives. Hill’s freshman class chose her to represent it at regular meetings with the Democratic leadership and Speaker Nancy Pelosi became a kind of mentor to Hill.
But after just nine months in office, Hill’s Congressional career ended abruptly when nude photos of her began circulating online. They showed Hill and a young woman who had worked on Hill’s campaign in intimate moments together.
Pelosi and Hill’s other friends in Congress urged her to fight on but in November 2019, Hill announced she was stepping down. Faced with the title “disgraced Congresswoman,” Hill said she was a victim of revenge porn from her estranged husband. She wrote a book about the perils of public shaming called “She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality.”
I asked Katie Hill in August 2020 what it was like to live her life in the middle of a scandal that left her exposed in so many ways before the world.
“The physical exposure is something that a lot of people have nightmares about. It’s one of the most recurring nightmares that you’re trapped in the nude, and you’re trying to escape, but for me that was every single day. I felt like such a failure. I felt so much guilt around the situation. I felt like it would be better for me to just go away entirely for so many people,” Hill said. “But then, I was getting closer and closer to that moment of truth, I guess. I thought, ‘You know what? Maybe the worst thing that I could do would be to disappear entirely,’ and I felt like I couldn’t do it to my family. And that I needed to show other people that you can recover from something like this.”
6. Director Oliver Stone on feeling like a failure when he made the film “The Hand”
Oliver Stone gained a reputation as the baddest of Hollywood bad boys, the ultimate risk taker. In his younger years, Stone spent a lot of time in a drug-induced haze. He spouted conspiracy theories and sometimes acted crazy.
Stone also gained a reputation as one of the great directors of his generation who has made films like “Midnight Express” and “Platoon,” a gritty film about the Vietnam War that earned him Academy awards for Best Director and Best Writer. And he went on to make other acclaimed features like “Salvador,” “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Wall Street. ”
Stone’ book “Chasing the Light” recounts the most tumultuous years of his life including the pain he felt when one of his early films called “The Hand” was torn apart by critics.
Stone told me, “I was a first-time director in Hollywood terms. My failure felt like I was in a magnifying glass and that everybody was seeing it in a fishbowl business. I took it hard. I took it very hard. I was ashamed of myself, and I was shamed by others and I allowed myself to be shamed. You understand that? And it’s easy for a person who had very low self-esteem to begin with. I was just a G.I. and a cab driver; I didn’t have any claims to celebrity.”
“I guess you have to be optimistic. It’s a setback. You lose two years of your life. A project you work on doesn’t happen. I’ve gotten used to it. Plus, on top of it, my sensibilities are divorced from very much of the Hollywood scene as I see things in a world sense. I’ve met many of the leaders and I see things in a different way than the American way. There is an American optics on everything. We see the world from our point of view. Our values dominate.”