Rome is not Built in a Day: So Is Leadership Influence in the AI Era

Rome is not Built in a Day: So Is Leadership Influence in the AI Era 1024 550 Ray Yuen

In the rapidly evolving landscape of the AI revolution, the ability to exert leadership influence has become a critical success factor. Just as the construction of the iconic city of Rome was a gradual process, building and sustaining leadership influence in the current era requires patience, strategic thinking, and a willingness to adapt.

This article explores the various facets of leadership influence. It also provides insights into how leaders, particularly in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), can strengthen their influence amidst the transformative power of AI.

Understanding Leadership Influence

Leadership influence is the ability to inspire, motivate, and guide others towards a shared vision or goal. It is a multidimensional concept encompassing distinct types of influence, each with unique characteristics, tactics, and applications.

Types of Leadership Influence in the Workplace

Executives wield diverse types of influence that can significantly impact organizational business communication. Here are the primary types of leadership influence and how they may affect communication:

1. Positional Influence

Positional influence stems from an executive’s formal authority and rank within the organizational hierarchy. This influence allows executives to direct and shape communication through formal channels, policies, and directives. It can enhance clarity and alignment in communication, but if overused, it may stifle open dialogue and feedback.

2. Relational Influence

Relational influence is derived from the quality of relationships executives build with their teams and stakeholders. Executives with strong relational influence can foster open, collaborative communication environments built on trust and respect. This influence promotes honest feedback, knowledge sharing, and effective conflict resolution.

3. Expertise Influence

Executives with deep subject matter expertise and industry knowledge can exert influence through their credibility and insights. This influence can enhance the persuasiveness and impact of their communication, particularly when introducing innovative ideas, strategies, or initiatives. However, over reliance on expertise may lead to dismissing alternative perspectives.

4. Charismatic Influence

Some executives possess a charismatic presence and communication style that can inspire and motivate others. This influence can rally teams around a shared vision, drive change, and foster a sense of purpose. However, charismatic influence should be balanced with transparency and accountability to maintain trust and credibility.

5. Emotional Influence

Executives who are emotionally intelligent and can effectively manage their own emotions and those of others can exert emotional influence. This influence can create a positive and supportive communication environment, but it also requires careful management to avoid adverse emotional reactions that could hinder effective communication.

Impact of Different Types of Leadership Influence

Clarity and Alignment – Positional and expertise influence can enhance clarity and alignment in communication, ensuring that organizational goals, strategies, and expectations are consistently conveyed and understood across all levels.

Collaboration and Engagement– Relational and emotional influence can foster a collaborative and engaging communication environment, encouraging open dialogue, knowledge sharing, and active participation from team members.

Change Management – Charismatic and emotional influence can be powerful tools for driving change and gaining stakeholders’ buy-in during transformation or organizational restructuring.

Decision-Making – Expertise and relational influence can improve decision-making processes by ensuring that diverse perspectives are considered and that decisions are communicated effectively to all relevant parties.

Trust and Credibility – Over-reliance on positional influence or misuse of emotional influence can undermine trust and credibility, leading to communication breakdowns and resistance to executive directives.

Effective executives understand the diverse types of influence and leverage them judiciously to enhance business communication, foster collaboration, and drive organizational success.

Leadership Influence Tactics

According to research by Yukl and Falbe (1991), there are nine distinct types of leadership influence tactics:

1. Rational Persuasion: Using logical arguments and factual evidence to persuade others.

2. Inspirational Appeals: Arousing enthusiasm and commitment by appealing to values, ideals, and emotions.

3. Consultation: Involving others in decision-making and seeking their input.

4. Ingratiation: Using flattery, praise, or friendly behavior to gain approval.

5. Exchange: Offering an exchange of favors, rewards, or benefits for compliance.

6. Personal Appeals: Appealing to feelings of loyalty, friendship, or personal support.

7. Legitimating Tactics: Asserting authority or citing rules, policies, or legitimate reasons for a request.

8. Pressure: Using demands, threats, or intimidation to gain compliance.

9. Coalition Tactics: Seeking the aid of others to persuade or influence someone.

Their research results also demonstrate that:

1. Managers had more positional influence over subordinates than over peers.

2. Middle managers are awarded greater downward rewards and coercive power than lower-level managers.

3. Legitimate power, expertise influence, and agent persuasiveness were the three most important reasons reported for doing what a peer or boss requested.

4. Personal influence (e.g., relational, charismatic, and emotional influences) was more important than positional influence as a determinant of task commitment and ratings of managerial effectiveness.”

Influential leaders understand the nuances of these tactics. They can create a communication environment that supports organizational goals while empowering and engaging their teams by striking the right balance and adapting their influence tactics to different situations and audiences.

Leadership Influence in the AI Era

The AI revolution has ushered in a new era of technological disruption, presenting challenges and opportunities for leaders.

As AI systems become more sophisticated and integrated into various business operations, leaders must navigate this landscape with agility and foresight.

Here are some strategies for strengthening leadership influence in the AI era:

1. Embrace AI as a Strategic Asset: Leaders who recognize the transformative potential of AI and actively seek to leverage its capabilities will be better positioned to influence their organizations and stakeholders. By demonstrating a deep understanding of AI’s applications and implications, leaders can inspire confidence and rally support for AI-driven initiatives.

2. Foster a Culture of Continuous Learning: The rapid pace of technological change necessitates a commitment to continuous learning and development. Leaders prioritizing the upskilling and reskilling of their workforce will cultivate a culture of adaptability and resilience, enabling their teams to navigate the AI revolution confidently.

3. Promote Ethical AI Practices: As AI systems become more prevalent, ethical considerations surrounding data privacy, algorithmic bias, and transparency will become increasingly important. Leaders who champion ethical AI practices and prioritize responsible innovation will garner stakeholder trust and influence.

4. Cultivate Human-AI Collaboration: While AI offers immense potential for automation and efficiency, influential leaders recognize the importance of human-AI collaboration. By fostering an environment where humans and AI systems work in tandem, leaders can leverage the strengths of both humans and AI, enhancing productivity and innovation.

Real-Life Case Studies

A Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study found that companies with influential leadership and solid digital and AI strategy outperformed their peers in terms of revenue growth and profitability. Furthermore, a report by the World Economic Forum highlights that SMEs that embrace AI, and digital technologies are more likely to experience increased productivity, innovation, and competitiveness.

Several SMEs have successfully navigated the AI revolution by leveraging leadership influence and embracing technological advancements. These real-life case studies and research insights provide valuable lessons for leaders of SMEs seeking to strengthen their influence:

1. Narrative Science: This Chicago-based SME specializes in natural language generation (NLG) technology, transforming data into human-readable narratives. By recognizing the potential of AI in data analysis and communication, Narrative Science’s leadership believes storytelling is the most evident and natural interface to data insights and has positioned the company as a pioneer in the field, attracting high-profile clients and influencing industry trends. Narrative Science, a global leader in data storytelling technologies, was acquired by its partner, Tableau, in 2021. The former’s influence has been expanded via a shared mission of both parties to help people see and understand data via data storytelling.

2. Locus Robotics: This Massachusetts-based SME develops autonomous mobile robots for warehouse automation. Locus Robotics’ leadership has successfully influenced the adoption of their AI-powered solutions by emphasizing the benefits of human-robot collaboration, such as increased productivity and worker safety. According to a study by Locus Robotics, “Locus provides a proven, flexible, real-world robotics solution that has repeatedly demonstrated as much as a 2x to 3x increase in productivity and throughput, while also achieving double-digit reductions in training time and overtime spend.”

3. Appian: This low-code automation platform provider has leveraged AI and machine learning to streamline client business processes. Appian’s leadership has influenced the adoption of their solutions by highlighting the benefits of AI-driven process optimization, such as increased efficiency, cost savings, and improved customer experiences. A study by Forrester Consulting found that Appian’s solutions delivered a 389% return on investment over three years.


In the era of the AI revolution, cultivating leadership influence is a gradual and ongoing process akin to constructing the iconic city of Rome.

Leaders, particularly in SMEs, must embrace a multifaceted approach that combines strategic thinking, continuous learning, ethical practices, and a willingness to leverage AI as a transformative asset.

By understanding the various leadership influence tactics and adapting their approach to the rapidly evolving technological landscape, leaders can inspire their teams, navigate challenges, and seize opportunities for growth and innovation.