I am teaching an upcoming workshop on how to be a more influential HR professional, and specifically, how to influence top leaders. I am really looking forward to it because I co-created the content with Colin Gautrey, an influence thought leader out of the UK, and if I do say so myself, the content and approach is fantastic! It’s engaging, practical, and totally relevant. This topic is near and dear to my heart because when I first started coaching I used to get stuck on issues related to influence. I remember coaching one CIO who was having trouble with his boss, the CEO. He and the CEO did not see eye to eye on issues. One coaching session, he looked at me and said,” What should I do?” The little voice inside my head said, “I have no idea!” It was one of those awkward coaching moments that triggered, “Oh no, I am not good enough. I don’t know where to take this coaching session.”
My inner critic eventually quieted down, and a few years later while I was on maternity leave and a little bored sitting at home, I started to investigate how I might have helped that CIO on that day. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, but I knew that there had to be someone out there that had a toolkit or ideas that would have been beneficial. Then, one day, I stumbled on a website by a coach named Gary Ranker. Gary is a big wig out of the US, who was rated as one of the top coaches on this or that list. He is an expert in Organizational Politics. When I read his stuff, I knew I was on to something! His work is focused on helping top leaders understand and successfully navigate political issues, so they can improve relationships and drive change.
As it turned out, Gary wrote a book with Colin Gautrey, the fellow who helped me to develop this course. Their book was on political dilemmas at work, and how to deal with them. I reached out to Colin and we hit it off. Now, I am the first (and only) coach in Canada who is certified to use a suite of tools on influence and power, including assessments which help people to diagnose their current capability and preferences.
What I learned from Colin and Gary is that influence and politics are indeed tricky, and the issues become more complex the higher up the ranks someone moves in their career. In a nutshell, I was not the only person who got stuck on these issues, most people do. However, there are a number of tools and tactics that we can all use to work through the issues systematically and to gain insight into what is happening. Specifically, if we use a stakeholder map to identify who we are trying to influence, and the quality of the relationship, and the acceptance of our ideas, we will be able in a better position to identify our next move.
Influence is also wrapped up in power dynamics. And, there are a number of tactics we can use to influence people, yet the tactic we use often depends on the power dynamics at play. For example, if this CIO is trying to influence the CEO, he would likely take a very different approach than if he was trying to influence the receptionist, simply because of where the power sits in the decision making process.
Another dimension around influence is influence style. We can have the best tactic in the world, yet if we deliver in the wrong way, we won’t get optimal results. So, a key part of the approach is using a style that fits the person we are trying to influence, and the situation. A tip is that people like to be influenced in the same way they influence others. So, how you influence one CEO or stakeholder will be very different compared to another, if they have some fundamental personality differences.
So, all of this is covered in the upcoming workshop, and these are concepts that I often weave into my coaching engagements. It’s a relief to have the tools to help clients work through these issues, and I am looking forward to spreading the word.