I left government service eight months ago. Since then, colleagues have often asked me about the biggest difference I’ve experienced moving back into industry. For me, it’s been the need to lead differently. As a member of the Senior Executive Service, I had a large team reporting to me and the positional power that affords you the ability to take direct action on your ideas. In my current role, I have neither. For my ideas to have traction, I focus on leading through influence.
The idea of being influential is all around us. From politics to pop culture, lists of influencers are published all the time. For me, leading through influence is not picking a new direction and persuading people to get on board; what I’m talking about is different. It’s the ability to sell your idea in a crowded field of ideas and then get people to help you implement it.
Whenever you are working in a group (which is almost always), there’s bound to be conflict at some point about how to proceed on a certain aspect of the project. If you lack the authority or standing to direct the team, how do you share your approach in a way that gets attention and action?
Trust and Credibility
Influence begins with trust. In order to get people on board with your ideas, they need to trust you. Building trust is job number one.
In The Speed of Trust, Steven M. R. Covey reminds us that, to build trust, you first have to trust yourself. As those around you listen to your ideas, they are asking themselves if they believe in you to follow through on your commitments. If you don’t trust yourself to follow through, why would anyone else?
If you want to be trusted, you need to be credible. Per Covey, there are four keys to establishing your credibility with those around you.
- Demonstrate your integrity in your actions.
- Make your motives clear and admirable.
- Continue to develop your skills.
- Hold yourself accountable and deliver results.
These actions are incredibly important for your career advancement and credibility. However, they alone do not make you better at leading through influence.
It is a universal truth that people want to be heard. They want to belong. More importantly, people respond to those that really listen to them. (There’s a reason we all have two ears, but just one mouth.)
Your influence will grow as your genuine interest in those around you grows. There are many simple ways to do this, from soliciting input on your ideas to asking the team to provide their thoughts on how to solve a problem. For this to be effective, however, you need to take action on what you hear. In other words, you need to be open to being influenced yourself.
Habit 5 of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Listening is a critical first step in any interaction, but there comes a point where you need to engage and persuade others regarding your ideas.
To be understood, your expectations and passion must be clear. It’s important for your team to understand what drives you and why you consider these ideas so important. To do so, consider telling a story. Research shows that effective storytelling leads to greater engagement, commitment and contributions.
Objective dialogue and feedback between you and your colleagues creates a real opportunity for leading through influence.
Commitment Over Compliance
Unfortunately, we’ve all worked for leaders that drive their teams with threats and fear. Their authority may breed compliance, but it does not inspire commitment.
So, even with authority or positional power, you must still rely on your powers of influence to be an effective leader. Whatever your job title, your team’s commitment to the work at hand is likely to be the difference between having a successful outcome or not. Teams that are committed are better at problem solving and more innovative.
Influence is the great equalizer at work. It’s not based on where you sit in the organization. Anyone at any level can wield influence because it is a product of trust and credibility, based on experience and results. This, in combination with an inclusive approach, strong listening skills and effective communication, is a recipe for commitment and influence.
Whether you are an executive or working hard on the front lines, your ability to demonstrate these traits and excel at leading through influence is a pathway to success. I encourage you to take it.
Jonathan Alboum is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.