“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” ~Colin Powell~
Maura wants to expand her influence in her company, but she’s realizing some major barriers have existed there for years. “Maybe I should just find a new job in a company with a different culture,” she said to a trusted colleague over coffee. “I think you should stick it out,” said her colleague. “In any organization, you’re going to run into challenges to expanding your leadership influence. Effective leaders strive to pinpoint and overcome these challenges, her colleague added. Sometimes they eliminate an issue; other times, they learn to work with it. Here are four roadblocks to overcome for effective leadership influence.
- The company needs a shared vision.
The vision is where it all begins. If all employees in your organization don’t share a strong vision, they’re not really clear on what they’re working toward together. That affects their clarity on roles and their individual and department goals and objectives, as well as overall morale. If you’re trying to expand your influence in a workplace that has no clear shared vision, motivating people will prove challenging. Plus, your ability to win the respect and approval of executives will be compromised if you don’t know what they envision the organization becoming. The solution: Talk with executives about the company’s strategy and vision, so you can understand it, speak to it, and communicate it to other members of the organization. Then set goals with your people that reflect this vision.
- Dysfunctional office politics dominate company culture.
Unhealthy relationships and communication barriers make it harder to gain influence. If you’re trying to build a rapport with high-level execs, but many of them don’t get along, it may be hard to make connections with them. If managers play favorites, or favor certain types of projects just because they happen to like them more, you might have trouble making your ideas heard. However, you can still make yourself an indispensable part of the team, working to bring innovative solutions to the table to solve the big problems. You should also cultivate a team of allies who are influential players in the organization, and work to build positive relationships with everyone else. The effectiveness of your leadership, and thus, your influence, will grow when you have a strong rapport with everyone.
- Roles and responsibilities are unclear.
It’s hard to build influence and be an impactful leader if you’re not quite sure what you’re doing. First and foremost, you need to have clarity in your own role in the organization—and your boss needs to be on the same page. Talk with your boss to make sure you both agree on your role and responsibilities. If you have questions about the roles and responsibilities of others, bring this up with your boss as well. If you speak with higher level executives, point out the need for increased clarity about roles and responsibilities. Ask questions about roles during meetings to clarify what each person on the team will do. Reaching out to people in other departments to ask them what they view as their role may also give you clarity. Plus, if it reveals any discrepancy between your boss’s view and their own, you can ask your boss or an exec to help iron out the issue.
- Workflow processes are undefined.
For various departments to successfully work together toward an end goal, you need a clear work schedule. Your timeline needs to show when each step needs to be accomplished, and how the project needs to be moved forward after each step. The whole team needs clarity about who relies on whom, when, and why. All team members will feel more driven when they understand exactly what the team needs them to do, and when. Without this information, the project is likely to flounder. That means you should never assume that people have clarity on the workflow process—you should spell out every step, create notes or a flow chart detailing it, and make sure everyone has a copy for future reference.
Maura found that asking questions about important issues like roles and vision demonstrated her leadership potential by showing she was thinking about the big picture. Strengthening the workflow processes of the team she managed boosted her track record as a leader. Like Maura, don’t be afraid to question the way things are—you might be the first who has had the courage to do it. Your leadership effectiveness and influence will grow as you work to strengthen people’s understanding of how the organization functions and what it’s working toward.
Have you worked to overcome these challenges? What were your results—did you begin seeing your leadership influence grow?
“As the leader, part of the job is to be visible and willing to communicate with everyone. ~ Bill Walsh ~
Diego Asks: I’m a fairly new boss in a large organization. Sometimes it seems like I’m invisible. My superiors don’t seem to interact much with me. And my employees go on in the old ways and don’t listen to me much. How can I be a better leader?
Joel Answers: Diego, it’s insightful that you don’t blame your boss or employees for the situation. That makes it easier for you to take control. When you lead effectively, they can’t possible ignore you!
Let’s break this down into three steps: evaluate, implement, and become.
- Evaluate. First, take this simple self-test. These are some key good leader qualities to check for. You can find the full test in my book How to be a Great Boss.
- Do I praise my employees for a job well done?
- Do is discipline in public or private?
- Do I give feedback?
- Do I give employees a chance to improve?
- Can I fire people when necessary?
- How well do I share credit?
- Am I helping my employees learn? Do I mentor?
- Implement. Once you have decided which areas you want to work on first, create a weekly “Take Action Now” list. Start focusing on the things you can change immediately. First, it helps you take control faster. Second, immediately people see the difference in you. Your credibility and visibility as a leader increase. People take notice.
- Become. Ultimately, there are seven qualities in a good leader. Diego, you will want to work on incorporating these characteristics into your leadership style to the point that this is the kind of person you are. When you adapt these great leadership qualities as part of your makeup you become too good to ignore.
- Empowers employees. Help your employees make the most of themselves. Give them chances to excel. Let them take risk. Don’t micro-manage.
- Provides growth opportunities. The best leaders recognize their employee’s capabilities and give them opportunities to stretch. They choose tasks that will help them grow, not overwhelm them.
- Trains through feedback. Employees can’t read your mind. Your best help is to clearly explain how they’ve met your expectations. Then teach them what they must do to do better. Or tell them what excellent things they need to do more of.
- Makes the tough choices. You can’t hope to be Mr. Popularity. Carefully analyze decisions and find what’s best for the company. Then walk forward in this decision with confidence— regardless of other’s opinions.
- Gives thanks. Good leaders give thanks and show appreciation. It’s such a little effort and it makes such a big difference with your team.
- Creates a positive workplace culture. Workers can’t thrive in fear and intimidation. When you give clear feedback and strong encouragement you create a hopeful, positive place to work. Create the expectation that every worker is and will try their best.
- Shows them the future. Workers are more likely to give full effort when they can see the results will be good for them. Take time to map their ascension plan with them. Talk about promotions and opportunities.
Diego, you asked a great question. Leaders aren’t born. Good leaders adapt qualities that add great value to whatever company is fortunate enough to hire them. Their employees love to work for them. They automatically gain visibility and status. I promise you as you master these skills, you’ll be too good to ignore.
A good leader knows the qualities necessary to take it to the next level. What have you done to stand out and lead? Share your experiences below.
“Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied
customers, which leads to profitability.” ~Anne M. Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox~
Client Theresa asks:
Over the past year, two great employees on my team quit their new job. I was floored. I didn’t see any signs that they were unhappy. We lost a huge amount of talent, and it set us back substantially. How can I improve employee retention?
Coach Joel answers:
Theresa, the six biggest reasons why employees choose to quit their new job within the first 180 days relates to their job satisfaction. Keep employees happy and fulfilled in their work, and retention is likely to be high. However, if your company is failing in even one of these six ways, it’s likely to push employees to look for better opportunities elsewhere. The good news is that as their manager, you have the ability to remedy any of these six major issues that may be influencing employees’ decisions to leave. Of course, you should also be asking your unhappy employees why they’ve quit their new job when they leave, which might highlight other areas in which to improve.
- Lack of opportunities to grow
To thrive in their workplace, employees need opportunities to grow their skills and talent. This isn’t just about career advancement. It’s about feeling satisfied by their work and taking pride in their ability to improve their performance and increase their responsibility. Employees need to work toward goals that are ambitious but achievable, so they’ll feel driven to come to work each day. Setting work performance goals together will ensure they stay motivated.
- Poor working relationships
A poor relationship with a boss or coworkers will make an employee dread coming to work. Furthermore, when an employee has a poor relationship with a boss, she won’t benefit from the guidance and encouragement that a good boss provides. As the manager, you need to overcome any personality conflicts that exist in order to provide the best support possible for your people. Additionally, you need to take note of any clashes that are arising between coworkers, and to mediate these situations as needed. Set the tone for a harmonious workplace culture by cultivating strong relationships with all of your employees, and make it clear that you expect the same from them.
- Not understanding the big picture
When employees don’t understand how their contributions fit into the overall vision of the company, they won’t take as much pride in their work. For their work to feel meaningful, they need to have a strong grasp of how it fits into the company’s goals. That’s why it’s important to talk about vision at team meetings and one-on-one check-ins. Help employees understand how each team objective fits into the vision, and how their own daily work fits into the big picture, and watch their enthusiasm for their work grow.
- Not feeling respected and appreciated
A few words of genuine appreciation each day can make a tremendous difference. Make “thank you” a core part of your vocabulary, and say it for the little things as well as the big things. When employees go the extra mile, recognize them for it in an extra special way. Send an email to the whole workplace that explains what they did, or take a couple of moments during a workplace event to tell everyone about it. These gestures cost nothing and take little time, yet they make a dramatic difference in employees’ level of job satisfaction. Recognizing their contributions to the whole team, including higher-ups, will also boost their opportunities for advancement, which employees will truly appreciate.
- Not having their needs met
If you don’t periodically check in with employees about what they need, they might not feel they can voice their needs. This can lead to a downward spiral of frustration and despair, leading unhappy employees to quit their new job because they don’t see another option. A parent with young children who is having difficulty balancing family and work demands might want flex-time or the ability to telecommute part-time, for instance. Ask employees how they need to feel more supported, and engage in creative brainstorming with them to find solutions.
- Fears about the future
The direction the company is headed in will also influence employees’ decision to stay or jump ship. If promotion opportunities are slim, or there’s a chance their job could be eliminated, they’ll naturally start looking elsewhere. You may not have control over these issues, but you can and should communicate with higher-ups about employees’ need for reassurance. Transparency is key—if employees are left in the dark about potential changes, the rumor mill will create fear and uncertainty. Seeking input and solutions from employees will make them feel invested in the change rather than blindsided by it.
Again, the good news is that when you eliminate these six factors that lead people to quit their new job, unhappy employees are likely to stay. You’ll also have a team of more loyal, dedicated, and passionate employees. By addressing these issues, you’ll become a stronger leader who gets better results from your people.
Call to Action:
Ask yourself which of these six areas you need to improve in. Consider a surveying your employees to find out what would make them more satisfied, too. Then, take at least one step every day to remedy the problem. Email Joel to discuss your progress.
Have you tried implementing the solutions described in this article? How did employees respond?
“Be strong, be fearless, be beautiful. And believe that anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.” ~Misty Copeland~
Client Taylor Asks:
I asked my employees for honest feedback on my performance, and a few of them said I’m too authoritative in the way I speak to them. How can I show them I value their intelligence and ideas?
Coach Joel Answers:
When David Steiner became CEO of Waste Management, Inc., he received an invaluable piece of advice from one of his directors, as I describe in my book Getting Ahead. The director told him that one phrase will help him shift the organizational culture more than any other: “I need your help.” These are the four most powerful leadership words you can say, and you should say them often.
Why “I need your help”? When you’re in a position of power, you may have the authority to impose your ideas on others, but that’s no way to motivate them. In fact, that’s one of the hallmarks of an ineffective manager. Asking for help in generating solutions, and plans for implementing them, is a surefire way to make employees more invested in their work. They want the chance to think creatively, helping you devise a strategy. It places you on more equal footing, showing respect for their intelligence. Moreover, it brings a broader range of ideas and expertise to the table. If you start using this phrase regularly, you’ll have shifted your whole leadership approach, and your people will take notice.
When should you use this phrase? Here are a few examples:
- When you need a new strategy.
Maybe you need a new way of gaining market advantage because competitors have moved in. The best ideas don’t necessarily come from higher-ups—they might come from your team. Bring all creative minds into dialogue with each other for a brainstorming session. Saying, “I need your help” will make them feel empowered to think outside of the box to bring forth potential solutions. Encourage them to throw out any ideas that come to mind, without judging them, and watch ideas merge and evolve.
- When you need to improve workplace culture.
When your workplace culture needs to improve, initiate change by saying “I need your help.” This strategy works much better than reprimanding people. Even if you need to critique an employee’s behavior or issue a warning, saying “I need your help to create a more harmonious workplace for everyone” can still work wonders. If you want to keep the employee on your team, this phrase will help him to hear you and modify his behavior.
- When the company’s in transition.
If the company is about to go through a change, don’t keep employees in the dark about it. Rather, solicit their ideas for managing the change or devising innovative solutions. Instill the feeling of “we’re all in this together,” and employees will take pride in helping see the change through. “I need your help” are four powerful words that will boost your leadership of any challenging situation. Change might still be scary, but when you make everyone feel invested in creating a plan and seeing it through, it will be a growing experience for all of you.
- When you need help with a particular task.
Use this phrase when you need help with the small things as well as the big things. Rather than ordering an employee to do something, say, “I need your help.” Whether you need a particular type of expertise, or you just need someone to complete a report, using these words shows you see the employee as an equal. You value her time, knowing she has other important obligations. When you make requests in this manner, employees will probably be happy to fulfill them, and it will foster a culture of gratitude.
Use these four powerful words, and your leadership skills will shine. Employees will see you as a great boss who truly cares about them. After all, these aren’t just words—they convey an attitude of appreciation and respect, which will help you get the most from your team. Remember, the best leaders know how to be humble, a quality that this phrase embodies.
Use these leadership words frequently over the next week, and keep a journal of your interactions. Email Joel for more tips on how to show your people how much you respect and value them.
How did people react when you used these leadership words? Share your experiences here.
“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” ~Andrew Carnegie~
Client Gina Asks:
As a leader, I want to have a stronger impact on team morale. Some leaders seem to always have the right words to make people feel supported and energized. Can you give me some tips on what to say to keep my team inspired?
Coach Joel Answers:
Great leaders make sure to use team-building phrases each day. To become a better leader, use them not only with the people you supervise, but also with other colleagues. These phrases, when used by leaders in any field, will build strong working relationships that bolster the effectiveness of the whole team. Use them, and others will also perceive you as a stronger leader—someone who empowers others and values their contributions.
- “What can we achieve?” Asking this question will help team members develop a common vision for a project. To ensure the best chance of success, all team members must believe in the vision. Posing this question will reveal areas where people lack confidence and problems that need to be addressed. It will also help to define a realistic goal, as team members’ distinct areas of expertise will give them important input about what you can accomplish together.
- “What can I do better?” This question is one of the most important (but often overlooked) phrases used by great leaders. A great leader welcomes constructive feedback about her performance. Asking this question rather than passively waiting for feedback makes it feel safer for employees to share their input. In turn, the leader has the opportunity to strengthen her performance based on this feedback.
- “Thank you.” It’s easy to say “thanks” in a brusque way, but sharing genuine gratitude requires more thought. Say exactly what you’re thankful for, in a moment when you can focus your full attention on sharing your appreciation. Make eye contact and smile, which will give greater emphasis to your words. And whenever possible, share your thanks in front of others on the team, so team members will come to notice and appreciate each other’s strengths more.
- “What’s your opinion?” All employees want to feel that their opinions are valued. By asking this question of team members frequently, you’ll help bring a greater diversity of ideas to the table. Posing this question to specific individuals at meetings will help spark dialogue about ideas that need to be hashed out.
- “I need your help.” Rather than issuing demands, come to employees with a request. Let them know that you need (and appreciate) their skills to get the job done. They’ll take much more pride in their work when you frame requests in this way.
- “What drives you?” Great leaders want to know what their employees are passionate about. They want to know what energizes them, what motivates them to do their best each day. This knowledge helps them to delegate work appropriately, so each employee has the chance to do more of what fuels her. Plus, finding out what employees are passionate about will aid you in succession planning, preparing them to take on more responsibility in that area.
Leaders who frequently use these phrases will see the team’s performance improve alongside their own. Practice using these phrases at team meetings and in everyday interactions in the workplace. Your employees will come to see you as more personable, supportive, and team-focused, and they’ll feel more driven to work as a team in turn.
Try using all six of these phrases this week, and take notes on the interactions they spark. Email Joel with any questions about your results.
How did people respond when you used these phrases? Do you have other go-to phrases for boosting team morale?