“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?
“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~
David had realized that departments in his company functioned as silos. Information was getting trapped rather than shared; the way communication was supposed to flow was unclear. Building relationships across departments would be a great way to expand his influence, his mentor told him. “Influence isn’t just about leveraging authority,” she said. “It’s about building relationships that make people want to listen to your ideas, and not just with people in your department. This means building cross-functional relationships with people working throughout the organization, in a range of departments and levels of hierarchy. You might not work with them closely, but you all depend on each other.”
- Understand what they do. Learn about the functions of other areas of your organization, and why they’re important. Have one-on-one conversations with key players in other organizational areas to ask them about what they do. Then, help them understand your own department’s focus in turn. This knowledge will position you to serve as a bridge between departments, conveying the responsibilities of other organizational areas to the people with whom you work closely. Understanding one another’s roles will build respect and encourage collaboration where appropriate. Plus, understanding the path of the workflow through the company will give you a bird’s eye view of its operations, preparing you to advance in the organizational hierarchy.
- Learn about their goals and objectives. A key component of building cross-functional teams is learning the goals and objectives of other organizational areas. Ask key players in other departments what they’re working toward. Share your own goals and objectives as well. When you understand what they wish to achieve, you’ll see how they fit into the company’s vision more clearly. You’ll also know how you can support each other in achieving your departmental goals.
- Celebrate their accomplishments. When you hear of another department’s success in an endeavor, congratulate the people with whom you’re cultivating relationships and share your appreciation. Make sure your own people know about the success as well. Send an email saying that your whole department is excited to hear about the success, or pick up the phone and make a quick call. Acknowledgement and gratitude play a huge role in building strong relationships.
- Establish strong communication channels. Work to pinpoint how communication could improve between departments or levels of hierarchy. Talk with the people you’re building relationships with to get their perspective. Improving your communication skills might mean making sure people in your department knows how it’s supposed to flow, or setting up new guidelines. Getting everyone on the same page about how to communicate will go a long way toward strengthening relationships.
- Ask what they need. Positioning yourself as someone who helps others get what they need to get the job done will make them see you as a leader. They’ll see you as the best person in your department to reach out to when they have something to discuss. Besides, in a world where people are used to others making demands of them, being asked about their own needs is a breath of fresh air. They’ll appreciate the sentiment greatly.
Working to build cross-functional working relationships will show you’re serious about leadership, as creating open communication channels is a vital part of active leadership. Plus, it will build your knowledge of the whole organization, priming you for advancement. David found himself gaining respect from higher level executives as he worked to build these relationships. Eventually, he was promoted to a higher level of management, and his strong knowledge of the different areas of the organization had positioned him to succeed in this role.
Want one-on-one advice for implementing these strategies in your workplace? Learn about Joel’s executive coaching program.
Do departments communicate effectively in your organization, or do they operate as silos? Have you tried any of these tactics to improve the situation? Share your experiences here.
“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” ~Warren Bennis~
Client Ethan asked:
A lot of misunderstandings and hurt feelings are cropping up in my organization. Crucial information often doesn’t get shared; people often feel their voices aren’t heard. As an aspiring leader, I know I need to find ways to fix the situation. What should I do?
Coach Joel answers:
Ethan, these issues all come down to improving your communication skills. Taking initiative to address them is one of the most important things you can do to prove your leadership abilities. Building your influence and leading your organization to success means improving your organizational culture by overcoming these hurdles.
- Communication channels are undefined.
When it’s not clear whom people should talk to about particular types of issues, communication is likely to break down. Your workplace needs to have well-defined channels of communication for handling projects, and managers need to set the tone for communicating well. Each person needs to know which coworker to talk with about a particular issue. Additionally, you need a clear path of communication between departments, meaning communication roles must be clear. One member of your team might be in charge of liaising with the art director regarding a package design, for instance. A clear path of communication is important for handling complaints, too. Employees need to know whom to speak with, and that person needs to know what to do with the information.
- Silos keep information from reaching all stakeholders.
Similarly, with poor communication, information can get stuck in silos. It might just be that departments need help understanding how to communicate better, but there are often deeper underlying issues. It’s not just that people don’t know how to communicate—it’s that they’re not motivated to communicate. Departments may have even come to view one another as competitors because they’ve lost sight of their common goal. Inspiring people to believe in a common vision is the first step toward correcting the problem, and it’s one of the most important ways of demonstrating leadership and getting noticed. Holding collaborative meetings with people from various departments will help people stay motivated to work toward their common goal.
- Communication flows only in a top-down path.
When communication flows only from the top down, employees can feel frustrated, knowing they have a great deal of input that isn’t being used. You might not have control over how higher-up executives handle communication, but you can voice your feedback about it if you have an ally who might be receptive. Furthermore, you can work to encourage the people you supervise to share feedback and suggestions with you. An idea box is a great way to encourage people to speak up when they see something that could be improved. As you grow your influence, your leadership effectiveness will become apparent to other managers and executives, and they might emulate your approach.
- Views are unrepresented.
When holding meetings, ask yourself if you should include particular individuals from other areas of the organization who might have a stake in the topic. For instance, if another department might have valuable input about the project your team is discussing, ask a representative to join in or share input by email. Making people feel heard is just as important as gaining their valuable input. You’ll be building stronger relationships by taking these steps.
- Unclear terminology leads to lack of understanding.
When people use jargon frequently, others might not understand their meaning—or they might think they understand, but get it wrong. It’s important to ask clarifying questions when people use technical terms or ambiguous language. One department might have an internal understanding of a slang term it uses, while another department might get a different impression of the meaning. Likewise, if people use convoluted language, paraphrase what they said and verify that you understand what they meant. It’s much better to spend a moment clarifying than spending hours or days trying to repair the damage of a huge misunderstanding. As a leader, look out for the moments when team members might misinterpret something, and clarify the issue even when you believe you understand it correctly.
As you improve communication in the workplace, your team will see its productivity rise, in part because their job satisfaction will increase. Be sure to voice appreciation for employees’ efforts to strengthen communication. This will keep them motivated to continue making a conscious effort to improve. Your leadership and influence will grow along with the effectiveness of your team.
Are communication hurdles compromising your team’s performance, order Joel’s book Difficult Conversations for the entire team. If a conflict needs specific support, contact him for executive coaching.
Have you worked to overcome these types of communication challenges? What worked, and what didn’t? Share your experiences here.
“If you’re climbing the ladder of life, you go rung by rung, one step at a time. Don’t look too far up. Set your goals high but take one step at a time. Sometimes you don’t think you are progressing until you step back and see how high you’ve really gone.” ~ Donny Osmond ~
Katherine Asks: Your book, Getting Ahead – Three Steps to take your career to the next level focuses on the three key factors that will propel people up the career ladder – improving perception, increasing visibility and exerting influence. Why should I focus on these three steps? Won’t my work/professionalism speak for itself?
Joel Answers: Katherine, I wish it was that easy. The truth is that how quickly and successfully you climb the corporate ladder depends on far more than just your excellent work. Advancement is based on the perception you create, not just the merit you have accumulated or the skill level you have achieved.
For example, one person I coached was a senior business development manager who worked for Cisco Systems for 11 years. He came to me for coaching because he wasn’t advancing in the company as quickly as he wanted to. Even though he had solid performance reviews and excellent job skills, he had gone four years without a promotion.
Like you, Katherine, this man thought that his work should speak for itself. He believed if he just worked hard and did a good job, people would notice him. But it didn’t work that way.
Because he didn’t let management know how valuable he was to the organization, they overlooked him. Think back to when you were in school. Didn’t the teacher recognize the person with the raised hand? While others flew under the radar?
The PVI model provides the art of getting ahead. It gives you simple steps to “raise your hand.” They help you improve your perception, increase your visibility and exert influence. When you do these things, you get noticed… and get advanced.
- Improve Perception. You can help others have a more positive view of you. Simple steps can change their perception. Speak up. Take the lead. Praise others. Let management know how your work benefits the company. Help others see you as a leader, a team player, a hard-working problem solver.
- Increase Visibility. How many people know what you do? When others are aware of your value, they can help you in climbing the corporate ladder. You might take on a project no-one wants or a high-profile project.
You can interact with people outside your immediate organization and make ways to inform your boss… and even your boss’s boss about the important things you are working on.
- Exert Influence. The surprising thing is that you don’t need any kind of title or authority to have influence. Your character and the way co-workers perceive you can build the trust and respect needed so they listen to your comments and value them.
As you are known for getting things done, building alliances, and gaining buy-in for your ideas, you begin to be the kind of person people rely on. You can sway decisions. Others want to follow you. Then it only makes sense to promote you to a position that uses these qualities.
Katherine, doing a great job is the foundation that the PVI model builds on. It can’t work if the person does poor quality work. But once you have that foundation, using perception, visibility and influence helps you rise to the top, stand out, and get promoted.
What did you do this week to move up the corporate ladder?
Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all. ~ Peter Drucker ~
Kevin had been hired to turn the company around. He arrived to find a sluggish, apathetic staff. Most were warry of the change and unwilling to stick their neck out for anything.
Kevin moved immediately to work on the three things that would most affect your employee’s productivity. He knew he had to energize the workforce. He had to learn who could rise to the top and which employees are worth letting go.
The PVI Model— Perception, Visibility, Influence— seemed designed to empower employees to take back control of their careers. Keven felt sure once they saw the impact they could have in influencing those around them, they would become energized and increase productivity.
- Perception. Kevin started educating his workforce on both how he perceived them and what he knew they were capable of. He encouraged them to look within themselves for their strengths and talents.
“Sharing what you know and can do is not bragging,” he said. “It helps us use your strengths in key places. You can enjoy your work more and we can produce more when we match your strengths to our needs.”
Kevin was quick to value employees who spent the time looking at how they were perceived and then acted in a way to increase positive responses.
- Visibility. Sometimes it was hard to see who really had the greatest talents. It wasn’t just those who talked about it the most. But it was essential for Kevin to find the rising stars. So he deliberately cultivated a culture of people willing to increase their visibility.
Workers sent in a weekly report of their accomplishments. They created a large “brag board” for employees to pin “atta-boys” for themselves and co-workers. They took a few minutes at meetings for attendees to tell their greatest accomplishment of the week.
Soon, Kevin had a firm grasp of those employees who were contributing to productivity.
- Influence. Kevin saw the influence of the more confident employees rub off on the apathetic ones. He encouraged team work and mentoring. Open discussions allowed employees to influence decisions made at higher levels.
As the workers saw their increasing influence, they began to feel empowered. Kevin felt the energy increasing week by week. Workers took more responsibility for themselves and their projects.
Friendly competition and rivalry made each team seek to do their best. Kevin cross- pollinated the teams so the best influencers could enrich weaker teams.
“The pay-off for the organization was huge,” Kevin said. “This PVI Model had a major effect on the employee’s productivity, motivation, and staff retention. After just a few months, it feels like a completely different company.”
Kevin commented on the tone, the buzz of the office. Workers came up and thanked him for making such a difference. “They even told me they’d recommended their friends come work here.” Kevin said. “That’s such a contrast to the brain drain I faced when I arrived.”
“Perception, visibility and influence just make the company run better— on every level,” he concluded.
What parts of your company culture affect your productivity? What makes your employees most productive?