“Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire team-mates and customers.” ~Robin S. Sharma~
Jackie had just accepted a promotion and was working to develop a grasp of whom she needed to influence in her organization. She knew that influencing stakeholders, both internal and external, is critical to any leader’s success, and that building strong working relationships strengthens influence. Her mentor helped her to map out the key people she needed to influence at this stage in her career, and this is what they came up with.
Influencing executives helps a leader to build broad support for her projects and ideas and to gain financial backing when necessary. When a leader sells her ideas to executives, they in turn influence shareholders and directors, as they typically have closer contact with them. Therefore, by influencing an executive, a leader influences others who are high on the organizational hierarchy. Plus, these executives often have direct influence over promotions, so gaining influence with them is critical to career advancement. Learning to think like executives, understand their vision, and articulate ideas with confidence are key aspects of gaining influence with them.
When a leader has influence with clients, they trust her ideas and advice. They’re more likely to support taking calculated risks and trying new ideas that the leader supports. Reliability is a key factor in gaining influence with clients. Building a strong rapport with them is another. Strong relationships allow a client to understand how a leader thinks and what she cares about, building a bond of trust. These relationships also allow leaders to gain input from customers that lets them better serve their needs.
- Sales departments
It’s important for leaders to influence their sales departments so these departments truly have confidence in their company’s products or services. When the sales department believes in what the company is doing, it will convey that enthusiasm to customers or clients. Leaders need to make sure sales departments are thoroughly educated about products and services as well as their value. This knowledge will help them convey a sense of confidence to customers and clients.
- Finance departments
Finance departments are another group of stakeholders that leaders must influence in order to gain their trust as well. This trust allows them to work as partners to allocate financial support to projects. Leaders must show the finance department that their projects are good investments for the company. Additionally, they should thoroughly educate them in the rationale for pursuing particular projects, so finance personnel can articulate it to others in the company, further building buy-in.
- Other colleagues
All colleagues in the workplace are stakeholders that a leader needs to influence. Building strong relationships throughout the workplace will help a leader gain buy-in for projects and ideas. Further, it will prime him to move into a more advanced leadership position, because the people he’ll be supervising already have a high level of respect for him.
- Suppliers and contractors
Leaders must build strong relationships with suppliers and contractors as well. They’ll gain more leverage with these parties as they convince them that the company’s endeavors will prove lucrative far into the future. These parties want to build relationships with companies that will continue reaching higher levels of success, meaning they can grow together. When leaders convinces suppliers and contractors that the company’s growth will continue, they’ll have more room to negotiate with them as well as a stable base of support.
As Jackie worked on influencing these key stakeholders, she found herself becoming more respected as a leader in her company. At first, she had to make a conscious effort to think about how to approach these stakeholders on a daily basis, but after a while, it began coming naturally. Often a colleague would reach out to her to discuss a company project or new idea, so she was no longer doing all the legwork in building these relationships. As her influence grew, people began coming to her more often, and she did her part to maintain strong ongoing relationships with them all.
Joel’s leadership coaching will help you reach the key stakeholders in your organization. He’s an expert on how company’s leaders can use their influence with key stakeholders.
Have you found it especially easy or challenging to gain influence with any particular groups of stakeholders? Share your experiences here.
“Entrepreneurs as ‘soloists’ will be replaced by orchestras playing a stronger, more credible tune.” ~Steve Case~
Tamara felt her department was too isolated from the rest of the organization. As she stepped into a higher-level managerial position, she talked with her mentor about how to change this situation. Her mentor advised her to develop a cross-functional team of people who worked together in close communication.
A cross-functional workforce is composed of people from a variety of departments and levels of hierarchy. If, like Tamara, you manage people from an array of departments—or if you aspire to step into such a position—start leveraging a cross-functional workforce to increase your team’s effectiveness.
- Understand the big picture.
Building a strong cross-functional network will help you better understand how your organization functions. You’ll learn how to improve workflow processes because you’ll know exactly what should happen during every step. That knowledge will make you a better project manager. Others will come to see you as a go-to person when they have questions about project flow or other departments’ functions. As you share your knowledge, everyone will come to understand the big picture better.
- Improve your interpersonal communication.
Creating a cross-functional workforce means developing strong communication with different departments and areas of the organization. You’ll find that the functioning of the whole company improves as you learn to communicate fluidly across the organization. By checking in regularly with people across the company, you’ll make yourself and your team more approachable. When they have questions or concerns, they’ll bring them to you right away rather than letting them fester. Likewise, other employees will learn to reach out to colleagues from other departments when they need to ask clarifying questions. They’ll become supportive allies to one another rather than working in isolation, or worse, in competition. Model that attitude by being a humble, approachable leader who always seeks to improve through feedback, and others will follow suit.
- Clearly understand responsibilities.
When you understand the big picture and are communicating effectively, you’ll be able to ensure that everyone understands their role and responsibilities. Because you have thorough knowledge of how a particular department functions and what it does, you’ll know what each employee is supposed to be doing. You’ll therefore be able to communicate your expectations clearly, and to more accurately evaluate employees’ performance.
- Building workplace morale.
When the whole workplace feels like a team and you’ve built a strong level of trust between departments, morale will skyrocket. The end goal will be at the forefront of people’s minds every day; you’ll all have more of a “big picture” mentality. Plus, you’ll all celebrate each other’s successes and see how they contribute to the success of the whole group, boosting motivation. As your increased effectiveness leads to more big successes, morale will only continue to rise.
To build a workforce that is truly cross-functional, Tamara’s mentor advised her and her team, to have one-on-one conversations with people who have key roles or managerial positions in different areas of the organization. “Have lunch with them, and ask them to explain what they do. Show respect and admiration for what their department does,” she urged. “You’ll develop strong rapports with these key players, and that will grow your visibility and influence, helping you reach reach greater heights of success.”
If you’ve started working toward building a cross-functional team, but want more pointers, contact Joel for executive coaching. He’ll be able to provide effective strategies to growing these relationships.
What benefits have you experienced from building cross-functional relationships? Share your stories here on how your teams, across the organization, learned to work together more effectively.
“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.