A leader can be someone who is in charge of a company, project, or team…AND can include lots of others that don’t have that mantle of a position title. How would they lead when they don’t have a title? Leading with influence.
As a facilitator for teams, I have the job of “leading” a meeting, but I do not have authority over anyone in the room. Why would anyone come and engage in the meeting, giving their time, attention, and their best ideas to the goal for the hour/day? I have to lead with influence, and fast. I’ve learned from lots of resources (and I’m still learning) tried and true ways to establish trust and get a team moving, without ever doing a performance appraisal in my life. I’ll walk you through what I’ve seen that works in the engineering workplaces I frequent.
Three “Tools” for Leadership: The Carrot/Stick, Burning Platform, and Magnet
Many people think that leaders have two tools, the carrot (motivation), or the stick (punishment). When one isn’t working, they switch to the other. It makes things simple, because if it works with horses, why won’t it work with people?!?! (Hint: sarcasm!) (Blog: People or Resources for more on this rant…)
Some leaders think you need a “burning platform” to cause change. The belief is that until you have a dwindling foundation for your life, you will see people move from the status quo. I never like this metaphor because it is based in fear. (There’s research on the Diffusion of Innovation that goes against this idea too.) I don’t think effective leaders’ guilt or force people into following them (Ref any kids movie villain). Also, I’ve seen that it doesn’t work. I’ve worked with teams that have shared their fears of the plant closing, losing their jobs, and moving their families…yet still didn’t make change happen.
I think both of these “tools” miss the mark.
The best leaders use a magnet. Not a real magnet, but an invisible magnet. What is their power? These leaders are doing, saying, believing the things you believe. When those things resonate with you, you are drawn to them. That’s why you want to work with them. (Ref: Simon Sinek “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.”). You are drawn in to where they are going because you agree and want to join in. And poof! You’re a leader!
This is a fundamental difference in these two models. The first uses active means to try to convince people to move from where they are to where you want them to go. The second may not be even searching for a following. The influential leader is headed toward doing the things they believe in, and others join in. The magnet of doing what you believe in and pursuing doing it well pulls in others wanting to do the same.
How do you become an influential leader?!?!
There are millions of people talking about leadership strategies and how to be a good leader. In my experience in the facilitator role, I have found that a few things really help me.
You have to know your stuff if people are going to listen to you. What is the thing you get excited about? Talk all night kind of excited! You dig deep into the topic and love learning about it and sharing that with others. When you have that depth of knowledge and excitement, that’s when others that want to learn about it start to listen.
I’ve found the first moments in a meeting will decide if people give me street cred. Then they will decide to check out or stay engaged. I find a way to connect with them in their professional or personal lives to share that I know the language (very important with engineers), I’m curious about their challenges, and willing to offer insights from experience (or brainstorm solutions with them).
Reflection Question: Where can you develop your depth of knowledge in something useful, that’s needed, and you are interested in? What’s one thing you can dive in on this week?
People know that you’ll follow-through. This is one of the biggest factors in team success (along with psychological safety). It’s only when people see you doing what you say (ahem…integrity) that trust will form. This is the most precious resource you have as an influencing leader, trust.
Reflection Question: Where are you being asked to rise to the challenge? Make sure you give it your all to build the trust others have in you. Trust is more valuable than anything, and it pays dividends over and over.
Those that know me any length of time will see that I am real with folks, because for me transparency is the best trust builder. Trust is the currency of leading with influence. People like to have someone who is comfortable and professional. Being genuine doesn’t mean sharing everything about you, including the breakfast that keeps you regular (please don’t!) Oversharing is a thing. So is gossip. Stay out of those or you’ll lose trust in a heartbeat (and it takes a lifetime to build it up again).
Reflection Question: Where have you been putting up a façade with your team, intentionally holding back? What might happen if you put down fear and tell your team about that struggle you need help with or what you really believe about where the team is headed?
Leaders lead…they don’t push
When you don’t have the position of authority as a leader, you have to work with different currency…trust. Trust is built by being consistently trustworthy. Those things come from being knowledgeable in a needed area of expertise, being dependable to deliver on your promises, and being genuinely comfortable in sharing who you are.
By clarifying what you believe, where you are headed (for this season of life), and going after it, you might find that others show up behind you. Conversely, if you try to push people the way you want them to go, they will push back.
Reflection Question: What’s something that you believe about your work, where the industry/market is headed, or what needs to be done? How can you take that thing to the next step this week?
Ready for the next step in your leadership journey?
Check out these posts for more actionable insights on leading by influence.