Leadership in the workplace often depends on how well you influence others across the organization – down (direct reports), across (peers) and up (senior leadership – or if you are the senior leader, your board). Do people outside of your department know who you are? How good is your group and team communication? Can others relate to how you think, how you present ideas, share credit, and encourage commitment? How adept are you at avoiding office politics, disarming toxic behavior around you, and providing solutions when others are focused on the problems? Influence is born of relationship.
Most of us are so heads down and focused on being productive on the project at hand that we forget the ultimate success of our work often depends upon other decision makers, collaborators or implementers. When interviewing teams in advance of strategy sessions to build trust on a team, we hear over and over again that members are quite willing to bend over backward for those they trust and feel support them. There’s a relationship there. And the flip side is equally true: no relationship = no desire to go beyond what’s minimally required.
And consider this, from the vantage point of mutual respect and support, you can impact the direction your company takes no matter what your current position. John Maxwell (The 360 Degree Leader) believes that “99% of all leadership occurs not from the top but from the middle of an organization.”“Leadership is action, not position.” — Donald H. McGannon
So let’s get practical. Here are two tools or exercises to help you understand your alliances. (These are adapted from work of various sources including the Center for Creative Leadership, John Maxwell, and Team Coaching International.)
Tool #1: The Alliance Map: Who’s Who And What’s My Relationship with Them?
“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” — Kenneth Blanchard
Take a sheet of blank paper and draw a small circle in the middle with your name in it. Now arrange on the page the names of people you work with or rely on to succeed. So nearest your name would be the people you most frequently interact with – direct reports, peers, customers, vendors. Next, a bit further out, are the names of people you work less frequently with. And all the way out at the edge are the people you may rarely come into contact with but who have power over your work – the CEO or President for example.
Beside each name code the strength of your working relationship with that person:
++ —Put two plus signs next to the names of those with whom you have a strong collaborative relationship, they support you and you them, you share information or ideas, you want them to succeed and they you
+ —Put a single plus sign next to the names of those with who you have a good, respectful, cordial working relationship
Put a single dash (—) next to the names of people with whom you need to develop a relationship. This could be because one of you is new so the relationship hasn’t had a chance to develop yet, there is little opportunity for interaction, or because you simply don’t get along.
You start to see – “Aha, I’ve got relationships with the leadership team that need development.” Or, “I’ve got mixed relationships among my peers, some strong, some not so.”
And why do you care? Many reasons, but one is the degree of influence you have in the organization depends to a great extent on the relationships you have beyond your cube or office. Who ultimately needs to buy in to that great new idea you have about a new product or process? Not just your boss and your direct reports, but your peers and the C-suite. And who is going to help you socialize the idea? Your peers.
Tool #2: Just How Great Am I?
“Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.” — Albert Schweitzer
Rate yourself as Role Model, Capable & Effective, or Need Improvement relative to each of these items:
a. I think longer term; I can see beyond the immediate need to a horizon ahead
b. I value my leader’s time and am always prepared when I meet with him/her
c. I provide solutions when problems are identified
d. I am willing to learn and grow and do what others won’t
a. I avoid office politics
b. I work to complete projects with peers versus competing with them
c. I listen, ask questions and am open to the better ideas coming from others
d. I help others succeed
a. I am committed to developing my team
b. I model the behavior I want to see in my team
c. I clearly share the vision of our department/division
Leadership begins with self-awareness. Who are you and who do you want to be as an influencer? Who do you influence or want to influence? And how are you influenced? Regardless of position or title, be someone others want to be influenced by, be a leader from where you sit right now.