I think the idea of influence when it comes to leadership has become a really misunderstood idea. In organizations, we give a lot of weight to performance and getting things done.
How things get done, doesn’t really matter as much as that they get done….until the “how” does matter. This can create quite a confusing predicament for some leaders.
Often times I will get an email from an organization who will want me to coach someone who is really smart, really talented, and even seen as an expert in their field. The organization loves “what” the person does. And the “what” the person does is so good that the “how” they go about doing it is, to coin a phrase, pushed under a rug.
Everyone knows in the organization knows that “how” the leader goes about things is less than desirable…”But that’s just(insert whatever name you want here) Scott…You know how he is…We all just learn to work with him or work around him.”
In this post, I want to unpack this idea of influence a bit, but first, it is important you understand the event that gave me some real clarity.
In our family, we have a little dog whose name is Carlos.
We have had Carlos now for about 13 years. So for a dog, he is getting pretty old.
Carlos actually lost his sight a couple of years ago and is basically deaf as well. He is still pretty cute and gets around fairly well for an old guy. There are times when he does get a bit confused and gets a little lost in his own home.
That happened to Carlos the other day. He was sniffing around in our kitchen and as he was in search of any morsel that was dropped on the floor he made his way under the kitchen table.
Once he got under the table, with all the chairs around it he became confined in this maze. Every time he would turn and try and get out from underneath the table he would bump into a chair or table leg. Then he would back up a bit and try a different exit strategy only be foiled in his plan by yet another obstacle.
As I watched all this happen (don’t worry I didn’t let it go too long before I moved a chair and he found his way out), I got to thinking to myself…
If I had the problem Carlos had, what would my self-talk be like?
If I am honest I would be saying things like:
Who put this stupid table here?
Why didn’t somebody tell me if I went in here it would be hard to get out?
How could you people all watch me struggle like this and not help me?
It was so easy for me to see myself blaming the kitchen table for my problems or shifting my issue to other people. The fact that I had this problem could not have anything to do with me at all.
Of course, the problem is totally mine!
My reality is that I am doing everything I can to get out of the table maze, the problem is that I can not see, that in fact, I am the problem!
I got myself into this mess and having the problem and the anxiety that goes along with it, I can not think of what the solution might be.
The anxiety I am feeling is causing me to not be able to think clearly.
Psychologists and people who work in leadership development have a name for this kind of thinking that does not reflect reality. It is called Self-Deception.
Self-Deception causes us to obscure the truth about ourselves which leads to all sorts of issues which ultimately undermines our ability to see and influence others. In the Emotional Intelligence world, we call this Reality Testing.
Leaders need the ability to assess the situation between what is experienced and what objectively exists.
The reality of the situation is if I put myself in Carlos’ shoes, that I am stuck and what objectively exists is that I don’t know how to get out. Self-Deception comes in as I try and shift the blame for how I got into this mess, and that I really need help getting out. Oh, how easy it is to blame; our coworkers, another department, a competitor, or even our poor mothers!
If we are going to lead more effectively we need to solve our Self-Deception crisis and really work on what it means to be a leader of influence.
I think in leadership circles, influence has really become misunderstood. What I mean is that we often see influence as “I got you to do what I want to be done”; ergo, I influenced you.
Well, the reality is that you think you have influenced me, and perhaps if you pay me enough money, or have enough power over me perhaps in some short-term thinking way you have. At least you have until I can find someone to pay me more money or I can find a way to get out from underneath your position of power.
True influence recognizes a couple of things. First that you as a leader have both performance AND people as part of the fruit that grows in your metaphorical leadership tree. One at the expense of the other is very short-term thinking.
If you are going to really influence others you have to get better at understanding their needs. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, and it doesn’t matter how hard you work. Frankly not too many people other than your mom really care. What they really need from you is to be heard by you. As you listen to the needs they have you are able to find ways to align your performance with what they need. I am not talking bout compromise here. In a compromise, both people lose something. No, I am advocating for how you as a leader can get done what you need to be done, while listening and helping others get what they need.
The only true way to influence others is to become empathic and really listen to what they need.
So how about it? Could you set aside your own needs for a moment, and work to understand what others might be needing.
I argue this is one way to really lead more effectively.