The work of a leader

“Leadership is the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives” (Gary Yukl).

This is not influence.

This core function takes different forms. We need to communicate a vision that is compelling to others, motivate and inspire them to achieve it. We need to work with others to solve problems and make decisions, and then get others to implement those actions. We need to help people understand the nature and scope of their contributions and ensure they have what it takes to do it successfully. We need to deal with conflict when it arises and confront people problems. We need to build teams that work cohesively.

This is a tall order, and it cannot be accomplished by simply ordering people around – even with a megaphone – or by using carrots and sticks. It takes influence.

Last week I met with thirty developing leaders from different organizations, industries, and professions. They all shared the same fundamental and urgent concern: But how do I do that!?

“I know how to do the work, but I don’t know how to get other people to do the work.”
“Now I’m overseeing people doing work I can’t do – how can I tell them what to do when I don’t know what they do?”
“I don’t know how to convince people of my ideas. They don’t seem to care about the facts.”
“I guess I come across as unassertive. I don’t want to change who I am, but I don’t know how to get them to take me more seriously.”
“In my new role I have to interact with peers in different areas of the company. It was easier when it was just my people and my area. We saw things the same way.”

Self-Awareness x Other Awareness = Adaptability

Influence is predicated on understanding both yourself and others, and using that awareness to create a bridge between you.

(1) Self-Awareness. What makes high potentials fizzle and leaders to derail? It’s not usually lack of technical skill or business savvy. It’s a lack of self-awareness – understanding how you come across to others, your strengths and weaknesses, how you act under stress, how you tend to approach problems and decisions, and so on. But navel gazing, while satisfying, is insufficient. We leverage self-awareness to be more adaptable. When we are unaware of our predilections, our behavior is constrained by them. Being inflexible causes you to have a narrow range of responses to the people and situations you encounter. When you understand the patterns in your behavior, you act with greater awareness. This awareness gives you access to a wider range of potential behavioral responses.

(2) Other awareness. You can’t influence other people unless you understand them. People are telling us about themselves all the time – they tell us indirectly about what is important to them, what they value, and what kind of a person they are. They’re practically throwing you an instruction manual about how to influence them, but too often we don’t pay attention. Be more curious and observant about people. Ask them about themselves. When you know what is important to people, you know how to influence them. People long to be understood, and like being listened to. Listening allows you to double-dip – you get to learn valuable information about people, and they like you for it.

(3) Adaptability. If you want to be more effective influencing others, one of two things needs to change: other people, or you. And you can’t change other people, you can only change how they respond to you by changing how you interact with them. To influence people requires that we learn to see things from their perspective, that we be willing to shift, to do something different in order to connect with them. Adapting your speech, pace, tone, energy, and approach helps you align with others. Speak your message in their language, frame it in the context of what matters to them, and deliver it in a manner that feels comfortable to them – and you create a path to influence.

When you are willing to do this for people, you are extending them respect. Respect creates the bridge across which influence is possible. Fundamentally, influence demands humility. We have to accept that our own ideas and way of being in the world aren’t the only right ones, that our desired outcome may not be the only desirable outcome. To influence others, we paradoxically have to be willing to accept that they may change us. Click To Tweet