“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.
“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.
“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” ~James Humes~
Mei had just scheduled a one-on-one meeting with an upper-level executive in her company. She didn’t get much face time with high-level executives, so when communicating with them, she knew she had to make it count. She understood that talking with senior executives was a great strategy for boosting her visibility at work. She immediately called her mentor and asked for advice. Her mentor walked her through these six essential strategies for making the most of the meeting.
- Get to the point. Make your point clear at the start, rather than slowly meandering toward it. By letting the exec know exactly why you’re sitting down together, you’ll make the most of her time. Don’t be long-winded—keep your words short and sweet. Mentally rehearse what you’ll say beforehand, and write notes if that helps you, to keep yourself on point as you present your ideas. Presenting your ideas eloquently, and showing how they align with the big picture, will impress the exec. Plus, you’ll leave time in the conversation for dialogue.
- Ask questions to gain clarity about what the executive needs to hear. This will allow you to customize your message to what the leader needs to know. For instance, ask if he’s familiar with a project before launching into a description of it, so you’re not telling him things he already knows. At the beginning of your session, ask if he has particular concerns or interests that you could speak to. If he really wants to hear about project X, and you spend fifteen minutes talking about project Z, you might not have impressed him as much as you hoped.
- Listen to what the executive is and isn’t saying. When communicating with high-level executives, you’ll get feedback not only from what they say, but from what they don’t say. If the executive hasn’t commented on what you see as the most exciting part of your plan, try to discern her feelings about it. If you sense hesitation about an idea, ask how she feels about it, so you’ll have the opportunity to provide additional data or other information to back you up.
- Be natural. Your voice and body language should radiate confidence, but don’t act like you’re on a stage. Execs will see right through that. If you look like you’re performing, they’ll try to figure out what’s amiss. Be optimistic but honest about areas that need improvement.
- Let the executive know how to support you. Make the executive feel like an ongoing part of your team by letting him know how he can support you. You might need support in bringing your ideas to higher-level executives. Asking for help, and voicing your needs clearly, shows you’re serious about bringing your plan to fruition.
- Make a follow-up plan. The exec will feel like an ongoing part of your project if you have a plan for how you’ll check in about it. Set a follow-up meeting a month out, or say that you’ll email him once you reach a particular milestone to talk about the next steps.
By using these strategies, Mei came across as professional and competent to the executive—just the kind of person this leader wants to work with in the future. Plus, her mentor noted, communicating well with executives in high-level positions could open up new opportunities for her in the organization. The executive might even become an advocate for her in the future if they continue developing a strong working relationship.
Have you had the chance to speak with high-level executives in your organization? Did you use any of these strategies? Share your experiences here.
“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.