how to influence,leader,boss

One of the key challenges facing leaders today — at all levels — is how to influence people more senior than themselves, including their bosses and boards.

Being able to get your point across and communicate persuasively with people in more senior positions is a critical workplace skill that you have to develop.

Influence is, simply put:

“the power to change, sway, enthuse or affect others’ actions, decisions, opinions or thinking.”

Have you ever been in a situation where you feel like you just can’t get through to your boss?

The ability to influence colleagues effectively is key to your professional and personal success.

Aside from making your job easier, knowing How to Influence Upwards has many benefits. 

Benefits such as:

  • Better understanding, co-operation and teamwork
  • Improved productivity
  • Problems addressed
  • Less frustration and stress
  • And of course, Recognition, and Promotion.

It is important to understand that Influencing Upwards does not mean using ‘crawling’, ‘grovelling’ or ‘brownnosing’ behaviours or flattering others.

It is about mutual support, trust, respect and integrity.

Knowing How to Influence Upwards in a skilful way is knowing when to push ahead and when to back down.

In the video extract from a Great Managers MasterClass below, Sandra will share with you some of the skills and mindsets required to influence your boss.

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[Video Transcript Below]

How to Influence Upwards – Case Study

business,boss,manager,leader,how to influenceMeet Maureen.  Maureen is the finance manager for a large company.

When you read this case study, think about what Maureen does well and what she doesn’t do so well.

She’s very bright. She’s well read.

She’s very informed and extremely competent in her role.

She often has to present to the senior executive team about financial matters and make recommendations.

She communicates very well and can be very interesting to listen to…

Until the point when she senses that people are disagreeing with her.

If people don’t agree, she becomes dismissive, tends to barrel ahead, and states with complete certainty how right she is.

She provides lots of facts and figures to support what she is saying.

If you resist her recommendations or have misgivings or doubts, you’ll get the look.

The “I don’t suffer fools” look.

Her posture seems to say “you simply don’t understand.”

She also has little patience when others express views that she doesn’t agree with. It seems she has little consideration for input or other perspectives.

She’s very focused on what she wants, on the facts, and thinks she knows best.

People admire her brilliance but tend to keep her at arm’s length.

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How successful do you think Maureen is in influencing upwards?

If you said “not very successful”, you’d be right.

Maureen doesn’t understand why her brilliant suggestions are not adopted, or why she can’t seem to connect with people.

At present, she thinks the problem lies with them. Maureen is using her dominant style and does not have a good range of influencing skills.

She has limited range. 

Range is about being adaptable and having the ability to tailor your skills to the situation and to the audience.

We cannot simply go with what we’ve got, our natural style and our natural communication preferences.

We have to develop our skills to influence others and get results.

We have to be flexible and have to use a range of skills and strategies.

The 2 Main Factors that Impact How to Influence Upwards

  1. Behaviours – the behaviour you use when interacting with others. Behaviour, as we know, is a combination of skills and your way of being. This doesn’t only apply to the actual time or situation when you’re trying to influence. Your relationship with the person or group comes into play, as well as your history and your credibility.
  2. Influencing Strategies– The other main factor is the influencing strategies that you use.


People are persuaded by different things. Some people are impressed by a strong logical argument, while others are swayed by a passionate explanation.

We have to consider both facts and feelings, logic and emotion.

Another way of saying this is we have to make sure we’re providing information as well as benefits because that appeals to emotion.

You not only have to be able to send a clear message when influencing. You have to be able to listen really well and ask effective questions.

According to Bob Selden, who wrote What to Do When You Become the Boss, there are 4 key behaviours you need as a manager to know How to Influence upwards effectively:

4 Key Behaviours

  1. Asserting

  2. Reflecting

  3. Questioning

  4. Suggesting.

How to Influence Upwards – Work with Feelings

The behaviours that work best with feelings are Reflecting and Asserting.

  • Reflecting – is the ability to really tune-in to the underlying message being expressed by the other person. Not only what they’re saying but what they’re really feeling. This is where you’d use your paraphrasing skills. Clarify their comments, their input and concerns. Reading between the lines around feelings.

    how to influence

    Reflecting is the ability to really tune-in to the underlying message being expressed by the other person.

  • Asserting – is being able to state your own needs and expectations in a compelling way, being able to use your emotion in an authentic way. When emotions are high, these are the most powerful influencing skills.

How to Influence Upwards – Work with Facts

The behaviours that work best with facts are Questioning and Suggesting.

  • Questioning – is being able to ask fact-finding, non-judgmental questions to gather data and information from the other person.
  • Suggesting – is being able to make proposals and suggestions supported by 2 or 3 strong reasons of what you want. This is your well-researched business case.

These behaviors are very important for logical, fact-based situations.


How to Influence using these 4 key Behaviours

I don’t believe there’s any situation that is either purely fact-based or purely feeling-based.

When you’re dealing with human beings, there are always emotions involved.

Some people do have a preference for one over the other, and this is why you need range.

You need to be able to use these four key behaviours, both sets if you like.

You need a whole range of different tools in your influencing toolkit.

You might have noticed that Maureen was only using Suggesting and Asserting. Her range was too limited.

1. Reflecting and Questioning

Selden suggests using Reflecting and Questioning early in an influencing situation to open up communication and to gather input about facts and feelings. This might be before you’re in an actual meeting presenting your case.

team,leadership,culture,self awareness,emotions,how to influenceThis would be part of your consultation and preparation.  You might need to think things through, do your research, ask several people for their views or experiences, and reflect on what they’re saying.

Ask good questions to get more information and different perspectives than you might currently have.

2. Asserting and Suggesting

Selden suggests using Asserting and Suggesting later in the influencing situation to present your needs or feelings in a compelling way, and to make suggestions or proposals.

This is about putting your business case forward.

These 2 behaviors are best used as a way of closing your case, if you like.

We use Reflecting and Questioning at the beginning, and then Asserting and Suggesting as a way of closing off.