Have you ever made what you believed was a "reasonable" request from senior management in your firm and been denied? Are you at times discouraged with the lack of client responsiveness to your financial recommendations? Or perhaps you are not getting the results you would like in your process of transforming prospects into clients?

Everyone occasionally experiences the frustration of feeling they are not being heard, but why is it that some individuals appear to struggle to get what they want while others seem to do so effortlessly? The simple fact is that the power to sway the outcome of work situations depends on you and your leadership ability. In order to influence the behavior of your clients and colleagues and gain your desired outcome, you must leverage the power of your leadership role.

For many advisors, this premise creates an uncomfortable reaction. Although most people understand the importance of gaining respect from colleagues and clients, they may not consciously desire to be a leader or acquire power. However, in order to excel as a financial advisor and provide the optimal outcome for your clients, you cannot afford to underestimate the critical roles that leadership, power and influence play in your success. You have a tremendous potential for influence-not only over your clients' decisions, but also over your ability to get your own needs met within your office.

Needs and Motivation
In order to increase your influence and get your needs met, it is important to understand your career priorities and why you do what you do. The difference between those who can successfully impact the behavior of others and accomplish their stated goals and those who can't is determined by the relationship between their motivation and needs.

David McClelland, a pioneer in motivational theory, developed an acquired needs theory. He proposed that an individual's specific needs are acquired over time and are shaped by one's life experiences. A person's motivation and effectiveness in his or her job are influenced by needs that can be classified in three areas: achievement, power and affiliation.

Need for Achievement. People with high achievement needs want to meet realistic but challenging goals and advance in their job. They have a strong desire to succeed and excel in their work. Researchers further suggest that there are different factors that impact the need for achievement at work. They include:

  • Wanting approval from experts
  • Wanting to make money
  • Wanting to succeed on your own
  • Wanting respect from colleagues
  • Wanting to compete and win
  • Wanting to work hard and excel

Need for Power. People with high power needs want to feel influential, effective and make an impact on their world.

Need for Affiliation. People with high affiliation want to have friendly relationships and be regarded well by others. They are good team players.

We all possess different levels of each of these needs. An important step for increasing the influence you have with clients and colleagues is to identify the effect of your needs on your behavior. The following exercise can help you to assess that impact:

Take a moment to consider where you would fall in each of these areas and rank yourself on each one of these needs (Achievement, Power and Affiliation) on a scale from 1-10 (lowest to highest). Next consider the work behaviors you engage in with clients and co-workers to support your needs.

For example, do you meet your need for affiliation by connecting with your clients on a very personal level? Do you meet your achievement needs by enhancing your industry education and getting certified as a financial planner? Or are you motivated to increase your production so that you can attain recognition status club in your organization?

Leading From the Middle
Now that you have a better understanding of what motivates your behavior, the next step is to leverage your leadership abilities to achieve your goals. In order to do that, you may have to broaden your perspective of what constitutes leadership.

Many employees don't aspire to be the president of a company or even have a defined leadership role, but most people would like to be seen as influencers. Think about your own workplace: Do you have untitled colleagues whose opinions or approval are continually sought, both by those who are under and above them? Those people have figured out how to lead from the middle, serving in an influential role without the benefit of a formal title. There's no reason why you can't do that as well.

The concept of leading from the middle suggests that success in your career is not dependent on a formal title, but rather on an acknowledgement of those key behaviors that can impact the influence you have over others. In fact, it isn't necessary to have a title to be a company leader or influencer. John Maxwell, who's authored numerous books on leadership, including Developing the Leader Within, notes that having a title is actually the lowest form of leadership.

This is great news for anyone who lacks a title, yet desires to be influential within an organization. As you acquire the behavioral and emotional intelligence skills needed for each level of leadership, you'll gain more influence, regardless of your title.

By understanding the behaviors that could potentially derail you from achieving your desired goals or create limitless opportunities for career growth, you increase your chance for guiding your clients more effectively. However, there are a few things you need to know about necessary behaviors in Maxwell's "5 Levels of Leadership" model before you can successfully lead from the middle:

Position. This is the basic entry level of leadership, where the only influence you have comes with the title.

Permission. Colleagues and clients see that you've developed impressive interpersonal relationships. They know you care about them and what matters to them.

Production. Colleagues and clients begin to respect what you've contributed to them, as well as the organization, and admire you. This is imperative—along with trust and credibility—to be considered a leader.

People Development. You demonstrate the ability to contribute to colleagues' and clients' future success. People grow through your mentorship and become loyal to you. Personhood. Your colleagues think you're simply amazing.

There are a few things you must always keep in mind as you seek to wield influence without a title:

  • Your success will always come down to whether people trust and respect you.
  • Your behavior must be aligned with organizational values.
  • You must say what you'll do and do what you say (i.e., walk the talk).
  • You need to be good at what you do, while ensuring your colleagues and clients understand you're a big picture person who really cares about them and the organization.
  • You must become an advocate of mutual respect, finding value in others as you seek to ensure they value you.
  • You must always be aware of your tone and how others perceive you.

To be a key influencer without having a title, your colleagues and clients must respect you, see you being consistent and know they can count on you—and you must own your own power. You need to see yourself as being in a leadership role and understand you have a great opportunity to make an impact, even though you don't have a seat in the boardroom, so to speak.
Dr. Denise Federer is a clinical psychologist, executive coach and founder of Federer Performance Management Group. She has been a consultant to the financial industry for 25 years.