5 Mindset Shifts to Transform Your Leadership Impact

By Heather Campbell

How can I manage all the work?
How can I get this person back on track?
How can I get my boss to agree?

If you’re anything like the Directors I coach, at least one of these has been on your mind this week. These are the three topics that most commonly come up in my coaching conversations.

That’s why, over the next three weeks, I’m going to share with you practical steps you can take to get on top with each of these. I’ll share the secrets that really make the difference and get results every time.

Today I’m going to discuss influencing the boss. Whether it’s getting them to agree to a bigger budget, to back off and stop micro-managing, or convincing them to address a problem they’ve been ignoring, boss’s need a lot of influencing!

Let’s get some uncomfortable stuff out of the way first, though. By its very nature, influencing means we have to address things that we’d rather not talk about. Things like power and politics (both dirty words as far as many leaders are concerned). Sometimes leaders also worry that they’re manipulating rather than influencing. Not surprising. Influencing is a close cousin of manipulation. Power, politics and manipulation. Somehow being able to influence others seems less attractive, doesn’t it?

But it shouldn’t.

Ultimately, power is central to having influence. The powerless person struggles to get their voice heard.

Politics in organisations – surely to be avoided at all costs? Not at all, politics enable groups to make decisions, to balance options for the greater good, to hear and take account of many different views. Politics are inevitable when you seek to get your voice heard.

And finally, manipulation – I’d agree with anyone who says they don’t want to be manipulative. It’s not a good look! So it is worth checking out whether you’re influencing or manipulating. This really boils down to two things:

(1) Your intention in seeking to get the outcome you want.
(2) How you go about it.

If your intention is fair to others and contributes to the greater good, and you engage with others in a way that is open, explorative and positive, then you’re most likely influencing. But if your interest is purely for your own good or you use coercion to pressurise others into agreeing, then you’re veering towards manipulation. Only you can ever fully know if you’re an influencer or a manipulator.

So, assuming you’re willing to take on the power that you have, to engage in healthy politics and have positive intention, then let’s increase your influence!

Here are the five steps that will make the biggest difference in becoming a skilful influencer.

Stop pushing your point of view and listen instead

When we seek to influence others, we are asking them to change their way of thinking and behaving, or their course of action so that it fits with what we want. This is tricky because humans are motivated to find the path that, on balance, works best for them. And, often, this path isn’t your path.

You can easily find yourself caught up in a conversation where your boss puts up barrier after barrier to your idea, and you spend your time trying to trying to knock down that barrier. Not effective!

The most skilful influencers don’t push back. Instead, they ask questions that help the other person to reflect on and challenge their own barriers. When you ask questions, you also get invaluable insight to the other person’s concerns about your ideas so that you can address these in detail.

Humans are more driven by fear than they are by desire

As far back as 1979, Daniel Kahnemann identified that individuals are more motivated by fear of loss than they are by desire for gain. For example, most people are more upset about losing $100 than happy about gaining $100. In fact, Kahnemann suggested that the desire to avoid an unpleasant outcome is at least two to three times more likely to motivate us then the desire to achieve a certain outcome. This knowledge is your friend when it comes to influencing others. However, most leaders ignore its power, believing instead that the secret to influencing is to keep pushing the benefits of your preferred course of action.

Set yourself apart! When you seek to influence others, focus more on the risks of not doing what you want than on the benefits of doing so.

Patience is a virtue when it comes to influencing

When you already know what you want, it seems like a no-brainer that others would want that too.

Let’s think of influencing as letters on the alphabet. Your commitment to your idea means you’re at Z. But the other person is nowhere near Z yet – in fact, they’re at B. If you try to get them to move from B to Z in one giant leap, you’re asking for too big a change. There are too many barriers for the individual to work through at once.

Instead, skilful influencers are patient. They seek to get the other person to move to point D in this conversation, and then suggest they meet again to consider moving to point G….and so on. When I discuss this with leaders, they often say there isn’t enough time to do this. They need to get a yes quickly because they won’t get another meeting with their boss.

This worry actually proves the point of the need be patient – if you try to push your boss to jump to Z, they will put up one big resounding No. However, if you have genuinely influenced them to move to D in the first meeting, they’ll want to make time to discuss the next steps. So, practice patience to improve your influencing.

Don’t be blind to the imperfections of your idea

I have often observed leaders present a perfectly-crafted case that sets out their recommendations in all their glory – but completely forgetting to address the downsides. When this happens, it is inevitable that the boss will listen to the presentation and then immediately say ‘Yes…but’. They go on to list all the flaws in the argument and the leader has put themselves in a vulnerable position, trying to defend the indefensible.

Avoid this. Instead, acknowledge the flaws in your case. Pointing out the problems with your recommendations and then giving an honest assessment of how to manage them, is far more influential. It shows that you aren’t so blinded by the brilliance of what you want that you can’t see the dark side. And every brilliant idea has a dark side, don’t kid yourself!

Know when to stop

If you follow the steps above, you’ll find that influencing conversations become much easier and more effective. But that doesn’t mean you’ll win every time.

Listening to the other persons concerns early in the conversation will mean that you’ll know whether or not you can overcome these. It’ll be easier to recognise that you need to step away and prepare a better case.
But, if you keep pushing a weak case, you’re creating even stronger objections in your boss’s mind – ones you’ll find impossible to overcome in future.
So, there you have it. Five ways you can increase your influence. Which one do you most need to focus on?

Otherwise, see you next week to explore how you can manage an impossible workload!

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