Make no mistake about it. Project Managers are leaders; sometimes without authority, sometimes without titles, but leaders nonetheless. They are leaders who impact key decisions, strategic direction and success. What is leadership without authority? The answer is “influence.” Influence can often be more powerful than institutional authority. Authority means nothing if the person who has it is unable to implement a course of action or make a decision.
Influence is defined as “the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior or opinions of others.” It doesn’t have to be related to title, income or authority. It’s not instant. It’s something that builds over time. It’s the perception that you are the go-to person for good advice, getting things done, support and finding answers.
Given that, how do you develop influence? The first and most important thing to realize that you can’t influence people to do what you want them to − you can only influence them to do what they want to do. In fact, if you try to make someone to do what you want, the reaction is always resistance. The leverage is in understanding what it is that someone needs or wants and helping him or her pursue those objectives. The fact is, by pursuing your “what I want to do,” you’ll be ignoring someone else’s needs. Influence begins with trying to see the world from the other person’s perspective. Influence is not about pushing or pulling; it’s about understanding and empathy.
Building influence is understanding that there is more than one right answer. If you have to prove that you’re right, you will influence no one. After listening to the other person’s point-of-view, if you follow up with an attempt to demonstrate how right you are, in spite of what another believes, you’ve just undermined all the good work you have done by listening. In order to build influence, you must be willing to surrender position. We are conditioned to believe that if one person is right, the other is wrong. If one person wins, the other loses. Influence is about creating a collaborative relationship, where someone will trust you with his or her perspective and know that you will provide support and counsel.
Building influence is your willingness to allow someone else to have the “great” idea. Actively pursue the ideas of others. Recognize that the people around you are sources of great expertise, intelligence and creativity. Influence is about finding great ideas and bringing them to life.
Building influence is taking responsibility for your communication. Where is the leverage for change in a pass in a football game? You can work on the receivers, but if the pass is bad, it will still be missed. Communication is just like that pass. When your listener “just doesn’t get it,” it’s not about the listener, it’s about how you communicated your message. Influence is the result of great, clear communication.
When you have helped your customer to get where they need to go, helped a team be successful – the next time your customer needs to get somewhere or accomplish something, they will seek you out.
The result is influence and influence brings excellence.
How often have you heard that the team has to collaborate to find a solution? The team has to reach consensus to make a decision. What usually happens? The strong, dominant members of the team, sometimes those with power, drive the rest of the team members to agree and happily call it collaboration. What if the players on the team are from competitive groups? What if team members were “voluntold” to participate on a team to do work that they:
However, hard it is, the fact is, collaboration is the key to successful projects. No one succeeds alone and the process of multiple minds working together to find creative solutions is critical. As leaders in the mist, it’s up to us to help facilitate and build what I call a collaborative structure; where collaboration is the way to get work done. In the book, Radical Collaboration, James Tamm and Ronald Luyet describe five essential skills for collaboration. I’ll paraphrase them here:
The answer lies in becoming the change you would like to see. (Thanks, Gandhi!)
Why is it that when one problem seems to get solved that fourteen others seem to pop up like particularly malevolent moles in a Whack-A-Mole game? It’s because it’s the nature of what we do. No matter what the fancy title, great intentions, vision or mission statement, we are problem-solvers and experts at the game of Business Whack-A-Mole. The continuous and unsettling change in the game made it particularly difficult for me to get my footing. No sooner did I become accustomed to one situation when it changed.
It seems to me that although I experience challenges as unique and unrelated incidents, they are, in fact, all related to one another if by nothing else than the people in the game. So the question is, are we doomed to an endless whacking of moles, one successful solution to be replaced by four new challenges? The answer is: the ubiquitous “Yes… and No.” Not a satisfying answer is it? Don’t we all want that magic solution, the silver bullet that finally puts an end to those pesky moles. Sorry, there isn’t one. The only way to get good at the game is to try to find the special blow that can handle more than one mole at a time. The book, The Question Behind the Question by John G. Miller, has provided me with key ways to stop playing the game; by asking the right questions.
“So,” you ask, “Why is this happening?” That’s question that will never get to an answer. A different question might be, “How can I change so that I have more impact on the game?” Then, the key is to stop playing. Stop playing for long enough to back up and get a view of the whole game and how the challenges (moles) interrelate and interact. What can you solve that may provide insight or impact other challenges? It won’t stop the game but it may reduce the number of moles you have to whack. It has always been hard for me to stop fighting when surrounded by problems and obstacles. The fact is, those darn moles multiply and playing the whack one-at-a-time game, leads to endless effort. Endless effort leads to fatigue and pretty soon the moles win.
So the next time you find yourself embroiled in Office Whack-A-Mole, stop, step back and ask the right question. It might be the magic blow.
Wouldn’t it be grand if we could predict the behavior of people the same way we can predict system behavior? How often does what you are trying to accomplish appear straight forward but the people get in the way? I don’t know about you but for me, it’s a daily occurrence and I wouldn’t have it any other way. People with their unique talents, unique approaches are what makes everything we do have value. The real challenge is to accept that uniqueness and make it work. In the book, First Break All The Rules, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman unveil a different approach to thinking about people. That, we, as managers often use the word competency to encompass skills, knowledge and talent. In fact, these are very different things and should be viewed separately. They postulate that the approach of having people “work on” competencies where they are weakest is flawed.
I can’t play basketball, never could. I could be given the best coach, play 12 hours a day and I may improve to become a poor player at best. That’s because I have absolutely no talent for it. We work with talented people everyday. But often, we force them into trying to improve in areas where they simply do not have any talent. We may be able to improve their performance marginally, but, just like me and basketball, it will be mediocre at best. So, what do we do instead?
Why not discover what people are really good at and have them do more of it in the context of their roles in the organization? Why not think of partnerships where individual strengths can complement each other? What are you really great at? How can you take that strength and apply it in a way that helps you do your job more effectively, helps you set the path to being not just good but great?
People aren’t perfect – but I wouldn’t want them to be.