The business world has changed significantly over the past 30 years. Organizations are increasingly ‘flat’ and hierarchies no longer have the stronghold over behaviour they once did. As we’ve seen in the last few posts, managing up, and managing those you don’t technically manage, are modern workplace challenges.
We’ve said that just being a manager doesn’t automatically give you influence – and I’m sure we all have come across at least one manager who found it challenging to get their team on board despite their position of authority (perhaps we’ve even had a difficult stint as that manager). Add to this the fact that, more commonly than ever, teams are comprised of freelancers, contract workers, or cross-functional team members, who do not report directly to the person leading the project. The ability to influence those around you – regardless of where you and they sit on the chain of command – is becoming an increasingly necessary skill.
How then to get anything done?
In researching this challenge, I came across many takes: John Maxwell proposes that there are five reasons people will follow your lead in his Five Levels of Leadership model. A quick Google search reveals many articles and tip lists containing different ways to increase your ability to influence those around you. I noticed that the methods of influencing most of these resources proposed could be summarized with ‘three As’: authority, attitude, and action.
This is the most direct route to exercising influence, and the most well-known – when you have authority over someone (for example, because you are their boss and exercise control over their employment), they are more compelled to follow you, especially when that authority includes the ability to enact negative consequences for failure to comply. Authority is traditionally how things got done in business – the boss tells the employee what to do, and the employee did it. Authority cannot be relied upon as heavily as it once was though, and there are many times when it can work against the person wielding it. For example, certain skill sets are in short supply, and using heavy-handed authority techniques on these precious workers my backfire if they know they are not easily replaced. Additionally, an authoritarian approach might mean that underlings hesitate to bring up mistakes, problems, or suggestions, to the detriment of the team. Authority can be a rather blunt tool, and it should be wielded with care.
If we cannot expect others to follow our lead as a result of our authority (or, indeed, if we don’t have direct authority over them), how can we expect it? One of the more effective tools we can develop for creating influence is our attitude. This is made manifest in our demeanour, the way we speak to people, and the philosophy with which we direct attempt to direct our team. For example, are we approaching a situation with a team-oriented attitude, or a self-serving one? Which is more likely to influence someone’s behaviour for the better? Similarly, are we approaching a colleague as though they are a renewable resource to be exploited, or a trusted expert who we can learn from? Consider how your attitude might be affecting those around you and their willingness to go along with your plans or follow your lead.
They say that actions speak louder than words – and they’re right. Leading by example is one of the most effective ways I’ve seen to influence the people around you in a positive way. People are rarely persuaded to work harder for someone who leaves early and ignores tasks; on the flip side, it’s much harder to complain about high work standards when they are generated by someone who consistently aims to exceed them. Our actions can go a long way to build our credibility with those around us. When someone works hard to educate themselves on an area of the business, we are far more likely to consider their input on the matter. If you’re managing a call centre team and have never been on the phone yourself, you might want to take a day to field some calls and get the view from the front lines. Bottom line – consider what it is you want to people around you to be, and then work to be that yourself. When you ask others to follow suit, you’re likely to have far greater success.
True authority just isn’t what it once was. It is less about where you sit on an organizational chart, and more about what others see you bring to the table. Build your influence through your actions and attitudes (and supplement these with bestowed authority when you have it).