The Courage to Influence
I didn't become a parent until my mid-thirties. Although not exactly planned that way, I thought it was actually good since I was well established and wiser than I had been ten years earlier.
Turns out that being older was not all that much help. Parenting was a lot more complicated than it looked…
One of the surprises for me was how quickly "because I said so" did not work. As I recalled, my own mother had used that phrase quite successfully during most of my childhood. However, it didn't work long for me. I don't know if I didn't say it forcefully enough or if my kid was just not inclined to kiss the ring – either way, positional power did not seem to get me very far.
It turned out that influence was what I had to count on. I had to find ways to influence her to do what was needed, comply when required and make decisions that were in her own best interest.
It's just like that at the office.
One of the early disillusionments of new leaders is that people don't just automatically follow you. Positional power doesn't get you much. What makes you a leader is your ability to influence people and, therefore, the outcomes they produce.
I often say we do our newly promoted leaders a huge disservice by putting them in supervisory roles with no supervisory training. There are critical skills or behaviors supervisors must be good at that they have little practice doing as an individual contributor.
Influencing is one of those critical skills. But we do get practice at it all our lives. We are in the business of influencing others, whether it is in our roles as parent, partners or friends. While some of us are better at it than others, at least it is not new territory when we must do it at work.
Well, mostly not new territory.
The part that is new and unique is that influencing others as a leader takes courage. It takes skill, of course. But with the skill and no courage, chances are you won't do what needs to be done when the going gets tough.
Although influencing others is certainly about getting their buy-in, it is not about just doing what others like. At work, you must be able to lead people in directions they may not have chosen on their own.
Who among us wants to willingly do more with less? Which of us readily embraces changes that negatively impacts our self-interest? Who loves supporting a decision that makes no sense from where you stand?
Effective leaders must stand tall in all of those circumstances and help others to say "yes" when "no" would be perfectly understandable. They must be able to hear and understand the vehement objections being raised and still point in the direction that must be followed.
Influencing effectively does mean genuinely considering the opinions of others. The objections and cautions people offer when they are resisting a decision or change are not to be tossed aside. Disregarding their input out of hand takes less courage but will not cause them to follow your lead, Besides, sometimes the input provides needed course correction.
Caving in to objections due to the felt pressure exerted and to avoid making people angry or disgruntled isn't effective either. You're not much of a leader when the loudest voices are usually getting their own way, despite what is good for the customer or business.Your staff aren't mad at you but the organization is certainly not better off for having you lead.
It takes courage to influence because you must bring others along who do not necessarily want to come. You must be confident enough in yourself that you can find the balance of definitive yet receptive, firm yet supportive and, above all, courageous enough to stand alone until other decide that following you is where they want to go.