The Power of Influence

Influence, or one’s ability to deliberately change the actions of others, has been a popular topic within the business community since the 1700’s. Many wonder how they can influence others, and are often unaware of how others influence their behavior on a day-to-day basis.  Research has shown that an individual’s personality and organizational fit, can determine how influential they will be, as a leader or peer.

How Do Individuals Influence Others

There are two primary ways that people have been found to influence other individuals:
  • Structural Factors – position the person occupies in the organization, their standing in a social network or their group membership. (e.g. formal authority given through a position)
  • Personal Characteristics – factors like personality and how well the individual “fits” within the organization. (e.g. if the person posses the right skills to complete the work)

Why Does “Fit” matter?

If an individual’s personal characteristics, specifically their abilities, are well-matched to job demands, then a “good fit” is present. Job demands include expectations that impact the behavior of individuals, such as the amount that needs to be accomplished by a specific deadline or the group norms or rules all employees need to abide by.
  • Abilities include the core competencies the individual possesses that are necessary to perform the job.
A “good fit” between the individual’s abilities and the job demands can enable them to:
  • Work well when they are asked to accomplish difficult tasks or are faced with high pressure situations.
  • Complete their assigned tasks more easily and quickly.
  • Engage in power building behaviors such as networking with coworkers or helping others.
When examining how “fit” relates to influence, we must look more specifically at job demands and the overall organizational culture which, ultimately, determine the effectiveness of the specific influence strategies. The better the “fit” between the individual and the job demands and/or organizational culture, the more effective their influence strategies will be. Understanding “fit” is extremely important because it is able to predict influence above and beyond the effects of formal authority, demographic characteristics, and even job performance.

How Does Personality Relate to Influence?

“Personality is an individual’s characteristic patterns of thought, emotions and behavior that are somewhat stable over time.” An individual’s personality can also impact the amount of influence they have within the organization.  For example, extraverted individuals have more influence in an organization where much of the work occurs in groups and teamwork is highly valued, whereas, introverted individuals may have more influence in an organization where employees complete their work alone and teamwork is less valued.

Implications for Practice

Below are some steps an individual can take to be more influential within their organization:
  1. Individuals should attempt to choose positions that “fit” their personality.
  • Extraverted employees should choose positions that require them to work in teams.
  • Introverted employees should choose positions that require them to work more on individual projects.
  1. Individuals who wish to influence others should take into account the nature of the position.
  • If the position is one that values interaction and teamwork then using a more outgoing, extraverted approach may be the best way to influence the other individual.
  • If the position is more independent, then perhaps using a more introverted, autonomous approach will be the most effective influence tactic.
  1. Finally, individuals can change their own behavior through leadership training programs that decouple the link between personality and behavior.

Understanding Influence

Effectiveness in organizations depends largely on an individual’s ability to influence others. Although structural factors, such as one’s position within the company, can affect the amount of influence that one has, it is often more important to understand the role personal factors, such as organizational fit and personality, play in this relationship.

Interpretation by:

Elizabeth Allen

The DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Anderson, C., Spataro, S., & Flynn, F. (2008). Personality and Organizational Culture as Determinants of Influence. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, (3), 702-710.