When I was young, every time I would leave the house for school or football practice, my father would encourage me with the words, “Be a leader!” But dad, I would think to myself as the door closed behind me, I’m not the leader; I am just a guy in the middle of the pack; I don’t lead anything!

When we think about being a leader, we often think about being the boss. Most of us came up in an environment where being considered a leader was tied to your position or title. This was unfortunate if you found yourself in the middle of the organization with no title and no position of authority. It was even more unfortunate if, when you did get a position with a title, your influence was completely dependent on your title. People followed you because they had to; you were the boss. 

On the other hand, if you knew that leadership is about influence, you would have invested your time in the middle of the organization developing your influence, up, down, and across. That way, when you did get the titled position, people would follow you because they want to, not because they have to.

Networking Your Influence

No matter where you are in the organization, one powerful skill you should be working on is expanding your circle of influence by intentionally networking and connecting with others. I say “intentional” because this is not a natural activity for many of us who become entrenched in our specific role and contain our influence building to our inner circle only.

5 Ways to Expand Your Circle of Influence

Why would you want to increase your network of contacts and friends? If you hope to grow and develop as a leader, you must expand the relationships you enjoy beyond your current areas of expertise and your current areas of strength. When you can establish connections with a more diverse set of people, you will accelerate your ability to grow as a leader. Here are five ways you can increase your circle of influence:

  1. Join communities of interest. Whether online or in-person, find where people who share your interests are gathering. Mastermind groups, associations, the chamber of commerce, or toastmasters may be places where you can connect.
  2. Be curious. When in the presence of new connections, make the conversation about them, not you. This is a skill worth developing. You are more attractive to others when they feel valued in your presence.
  3. Be teachable. Enter these new circles of relationships with the intention to learn from others. Don’t pretend you are perfect or have all the answers. Ask good questions and listen deeply.
  4. Be relatable. Humility is a critical leadership skill that does not get much airtime these days, but when you are humble and teachable, you become more relatable to others. People want to be around people who are authentic.
  5. Be generous. Have an abundance mindset and share generously with others. Share your time, ideas, and other resources to help others grow and develop. 

It’s easy to think we are too busy to invest time in growing new relationships, but the return on this investment of time can help you grow as a leader by helping you develop your influence with your peer group.

Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with the John Maxwell Company’s Corporate Solutions Group as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.