“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?
“Leadership is intentional influence.” ~Michael McKinney~
Client Brianna asks:
People often talk about the importance of influencing internal and external stakeholders. What makes a successful influencer, in your eyes?
Coach Joel answers:
Successful influencers do these five things better than anyone else. These five strategies foster strong relationships that make others see those influencers as people they can rely on. If you succeed in putting these five things into practice in your daily work, you’re just about guaranteed to build influence in your workplace.
- Build strong partnerships. A strong influencer is able to create partnerships across all business units, thereby developing a wider base of support and cooperation. When you develop these strong relationships, you’ll help the whole organization to function more effectively—and you’ll be seen as someone who guides others in developing relationships that benefit the whole group.
- Leverage allies. Your allies will help support your ideas and accomplish the tasks that have been deemed important. Successful influencers cultivate alliances with people across the company who are in positions of leadership or who have strong social capital. Influencers stay in close communication with these allies and have the confidence to ask for what they want. They know how to clearly articulate their needs for support to these allies, spelling out how their request will benefit the whole organization.
- Cause others to rely on them. Because successful influencers shape group decisions and change outcomes for the better, people appreciate their conﬁdence and know they can depend on them. Higher-ups as well as people they supervise come to them for advice and ideas. To get higher-ups to rely on them, successful influencers might become experts in areas that most people aren’t knowledgeable in, filling in important gaps. They might also demonstrate their ability to creatively solve problems that everyone else avoids. The people they supervise feel empowered by talking with them, because influencers give them guidance in developing and implementing their own ideas.
- Lead up. When building your influence within your workplace, don’t just work to lead those who are below you on the hierarchy. Leadership isn’t about having a title. Influencers establish mutual respect with people above them, who seek out and listen to their opinions, ideas, and insights as a result. Voice your input to these key players with confidence, using your existing relationships with key players to reach new ones. For instance, if you have a suggestion for improving a product development strategy, present it to an advocate and ask for help in connecting with decision-makers. Carefully craft your rationale for your ideas and suggestions before speaking with those further up the hierarchy, and voice your input to these key players with confidence.
- Gain results from others. Strong influencers know how to keep others motivated, lighting a fire under them to succeed. That means making them believe they can achieve their goals. They also work to create a positive environment that makes employees happy to come to work. As you become a person who gets results from others, you’ll inspire them to keep taking on more ambitious tasks that positively impact the company’s bottom line.
When you master these five qualities, you’ll have become a successful leader in your organization. You don’t need to be in a formal leadership position to hone and utilize these qualities. As you naturally assume more of an informal leadership role, a work promotion is likely to follow. Don’t wait until someone else gives you the green light—begin stepping into a leadership position now, by developing these key skills. Your influence in the workplace will keep building as you grow more practiced in all of these areas.
Try focusing on one of these five qualities each week. Email Joel to discuss your progress and how you can continue improving.
Have you tried any of these strategies? What were your results?
“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~
Client Lorenzo asks:
I’ve worked hard to improve my perception and increase my visibility in my company, and I feel I’ve succeeded. How can I leverage my visibility to become more of a key player in my organization?
Coach Joel answers:
Lorenzo, congrats on strengthening others’ perception of you and achieving greater visibility. Those are important steps toward becoming a key player in your company. To really have an impact on things like its vision and direction, you now need to increase your influence. Having influence over others will allow you to truly have an impact on your organization. Here are three strategies that will help you increase your influence at work.
- Get things done. Let people know they can count on you to accomplish even the toughest assignments. You’ve undoubtedly worked to brand yourself in this way while improving your perception. Keep it up, and work to take on more ambitious and high-profile assignments, particularly those that involve leadership. Your adeptness at managing a team will garner respect from team members as well as higher-ups.
- Become a go-to person. Become someone whom others seek out for advice when striving to accomplish essential tasks and make important decisions. Give honest feedback, instead of sugarcoating things so that others will like you. Rather, gain their respect by becoming known for your candor, being tactful yet truthful. If you start doing this in meetings, others will seek out your input. Make others feel comfortable coming to you for advice or to exchange ideas by being supportive and encouraging in all of your daily interactions.
Additionally, hone particular types of knowledge or skill that will make others see you as the authority in those areas. Take note of any gaps in knowledge in your organization, work to fill them, and then promote yourself as knowledgeable in those areas. As you work to increase the influence you hold by becoming a go-to person, your whole organization will benefit from your efforts.
- Gain buy-in for your ideas. Your established credibility and respect will prompt people to embrace your ideas and want to be a part of what you’re doing. Before pitching an innovative idea, ask yourself whom you need on your side. Leverage the relationships you’ve built with key players in your company to get strong support on your side from the beginning. Sell your ideas to them by having data to back you up and preparing to respond to criticism. Most importantly, present your ideas with confidence, even if you don’t have seniority or a high-level leadership role. Having power or formal authority isn’t necessary to influence others. Belief in yourself is—and it will take you further than you might think.
As you grow your influence at work, you’ll increase your ability to sway opinions and will find people embracing your ideas. People will be loyal to you and your perspectives, and motivated to carry them out. You’ll soon become that person whom all your colleagues want on their team when introducing a new idea, because your opinion matters to everyone.
Do you have a plan for building your influence at work? Email Joel to make sure you’re on the right track.
Have you tried any of these strategies for building your influence? How did it work out?
“A great leader needs to love and respect people, and he needs to be comfortable with himself and with the world. He also needs to be able to forgive himself and others. In other words, a leader needs grace.”
~ Leo Hindery, Jr. ~
Bill did his best to model fearlessness, capability, and decisiveness for the people he supervised—all the qualities associated with strong leadership. In all his interactions with them, though, they seemed anxious and afraid. In meetings, he could never seem to spark a robust discussion—they would just give lip service to his questions. He couldn’t understand why they acted just the opposite of the example he tried to set.
Bill didn’t realize that his attitude of invincibility was not actually setting a good example. Rather, playing the part of the fearless leader was stifling discussion and creativity. He was forgetting that success requires risks, and when taking risks, a leader is by nature in a place of vulnerability. His attitude that failure is not an option masked the reality that we all risk failure when we reach toward high goals. Pretending he was invincible showed his deep fear of failure, which is a weakness, not a strength. Like Bill, if you want to become a strong leader in your company, have the confidence to believe that even if you do fail on any one project, you’ll bounce back and succeed in the future. When strong leaders show vulnerability, it projects this confidence to the world.
That doesn’t mean you should walk around griping about your insecurities all day. Rather, just be comfortable enough in yourself to show you know you’re far from perfect, and learn to view mistakes and weakness as learning opportunities.
1. Being authentic
When you show your vulnerabilities, you are being authentic, and that helps others to see you as trustworthy. In other words, let people see your whole self rather than picking and choosing the aspects you want them to see. People can tell whether you’re being authentic or not, particularly when you work with them every day. When you’re authentic with them, they’ll learn to trust you more rather than feeling that on some level you’re deceiving them.
2. Creating a culture of openness
Talking about your own mistakes will help the people you manage and work with to feel comfortable talking about theirs too. This will help create a culture of learning from mistakes by examining, with honesty and transparency, what went wrong. The whole group will then learn from each individual’s experiences, rather than everyone keeping things bottled up inside.
Further, this culture of openness will help your team understand the full history of a project, rather than just knowing it succeeded or it failed. The team will understand how each decision played a part in reaching the final outcome.
Likewise, be transparent about what’s happening with the company, and if you don’t know something, say so. When employees know you’re doing your best to keep them informed, they’ll trust you more.
3. Making team members feel needed
A leader who’s afraid to be vulnerable might fear that if an employee is more intelligent or capable than him in certain ways, that employee might upstage him. A vulnerable leader has let go of the need to be the mastermind behind every decision. Remember that you don’t have to know how to solve every problem to be a good leader. You need to know how to find and nurture the people who do. Don’t feel threatened by their abilities—recruit them actively, and provide them with the mentorship and incentives that will help them succeed. Give team members meaningful responsibilities with opportunities to use their own creativity, and let them know you appreciate that they can do things that you can’t.
4. Being easier to work with
If you’re hard to approach at work, imagine how much energy it takes for people to confront you about their concerns. That energy would be much better spent on team projects than on this unnecessary stress. Being the first to admit your shortcomings makes you more approachable, and it shows insight and self-awareness. It also makes problems easier to correct, allowing work to flow more smoothly. Sharpening your communication skills by learning to listen actively, use open body language, and stay fully engaged will help you make the most of these conversations.
5. Learning to grow
Strong leaders proactively ask for feedback, which puts them in an inherently vulnerable position. They might sometimes feel dismayed by the feedback they receive, but they realize this feedback provides a valuable opportunity to grow. By going outside of your comfort zone to ask for this feedback, you’ll move beyond the limitations that a false sense of invulnerability can impose.
As you become a stronger leader by showing vulnerability in these ways, your team members’ trust and respect for you will grow. Relax, take a deep breath, and let your ability to work with your own imperfection shine.
Make a list of five ways you can show your vulnerability with people you supervise. Try doing one every day over the course of a week. Do you notice a difference in how team members relate to you? Email Joel to discuss your results.
Talkback: Have you ever had a boss who was good at showing vulnerability? Did it help you to grow as an employee? Share your experiences here.
Image courtesy of Pixabay/ pixabay.com
“To Improve Your Team’s Output, Look at it Differently”
Today’s guest post is by Mike Figliuolo, co-author of Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results (you can get your copy by clicking here). You can learn more about Mike and the book at the end of the post. Here’s Mike:
Why do you pay your team members? If you asked them, they might answer “You pay us to work.” If you ask an office-based worker what “work” means to them, you’ll get a list of typical workday activities. They read and write emails. They write reports. They go to meetings and attend conference calls. Those activities that sound appropriate enough, but they don’t give a complete picture of what “work” means to you.
There are two different definitions of “work” in the dictionary. Your team members likely subscribe to the one that defines “work” as “mental or physical activity as a means of earning income; employment.” Given you’re responsible for your team achieving its goals, you probably lean toward the other one which defines “work” as “activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.”
The two definitions are similar in that they revolve around physical or mental activity but they differ significantly on the purpose of the work. The implication here is you must hold your team members accountable for the results they achieve – not the activities they perform. That accountability contributes to the collective results your team delivers. Activities your team members think of as “work” are the inputs that go into getting the real outcome you desire – results that lead you to achieve your goals. Those are the outcomes to assess when placing team members on the Leadership Matrix.
Assessing the Output of Your Team Members
The output question leaders need to focus on is “are my team members producing the results I need given all the investments – pay, equipment, supplies, my time and energy – I’m making in them?” Assess each team member’s output – results that contribute to your team goals. To conduct this assessment, you’ll evaluate five elements of team member output:
What is the quantity of results compared to what is expected or asked of them?
How is the quality of their final work versus what is expected?
How timely is the work they deliver versus expected deadlines or durations?
To what degree do they improve morale in their immediate team?
To what extent do they improve relationships with stakeholders and colleagues outside their immediate team?
By understanding the results someone delivers at a level deeper than the easily measured numbers, you’ll have a sense not only for what they’re delivering but also how they’re delivering it. That new look at the “how” of their results will help you coach and develop them more effectively.
If you’d like to assess your team members and see where they plot on the Leadership Matrix, take our simple assessment. It will give you a sense for not only the results you get from them but what your investment of time and energy is as their leader. That combined picture will give you a much clearer approach to getting the best out of the members of your team.
– Mike Figliuolo is the co-author of Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results and the author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. He’s the managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC – a leadership development training firm. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.