Many people assume that all leaders have the ability to influence others by virtue of their position. This is not always true.
You can be in a leadership role, yet lack influencing skills. Conversely, you can greatly influence others without being a formal leader.
VitalSmarts includes information on their website that outlines the top reasons why leaders lack influence. This post will recap the main points for each of these five reasons. I will add my own thoughts to those of the authors.
(Note: These concepts are based on the best-selling book Influencer. I have found the model that the authors propose around the six sources of influence to be practical – as well as easy to understand and apply).
Reasons Why Leaders Lack Influence
1. Leaders think it’s not their job.
Most leaders spend very little time consciously influencing others. They believe that their primary job is to come up with big ideas and then to implement them.
The key thought here is having a conscious effort to influence others. Whether they intend to do it or not, the actions of those in leadership positions have the potential to influence others. What rarely happens is for the leader to develop a strategic action plan for how to influence their employees on the vital behaviors that they desire. The assumption by many leaders is that if we give people a direction and the resources they need, then good things will happen.
I used to work for a manager who clearly had this mindset. He became frustrated when much of his organization repeatedly performed work in ways that were counter to his preferred approach. Yet, he never asked himself how he might influence some of the employees so that they would become more aligned and working on the right things.
Symbolism can be a powerful method to align an organization to a new way of thinking. Transformational leaders know that everyone will be looking at what they say and do. One of the basic tenets of effecting culture change is to create experiences that will reinforce the beliefs that you want people to hold. These experiences can be small words of support, a well-written sincere note, or a key policy decision. But they can also be bold acts that create a lasting impression and become the basis for stories and legends. Consider the following symbolic acts – one in world politics and one in business.
At the 1995 World Cup rugby final, Nelson Mandela put on a jersey of the South African Springboks, which under apartheid had been the exclusively white national rugby team. Mandela purposely chose to wear the uniform of the sport that black South Africans had always seen as that of the oppressor. The symbolism was unmistakable. It was an overt statement to millions of South Africans that he sincerely believed in reconciliation in the new democratic South Africa.
Gordon Bethune, CEO of Continental Airlines, was trying to send a message to all his employees that the old rigid rules were history. He wanted everyone to make whatever decision they thought was right for the company and the customer. To make this clear, he staged a book burning, where the previous “rules manual” was ceremoniously set afire in a 55-gallon drum in the parking lot. This story soon spread among the employees. Message received.
The use of symbolism is not only within the purview of world political leaders or company executives. Creating experiences is only limited to your imagination and the thoughtful consideration of the message you want to send.
Is there an undiscussable topic that is preventing your team from working well together or is causing you to avoid working on the things that matter most? Then you may have an elephant in the room.
An elephant in the room is an obvious truth or condition that is being ignored or not addressed, or a risk nobody wants to discuss. Everyone knows these elephants exist – but we try to avoid them or refer to them obliquely. They are often discussed privately either before or after meetings. Our fear is that if we talk about these elephants, they will come to life and trample us. The problem is that unless and until we are free to identify and discuss these sensitive topics openly, they never go away.
“Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”
– Henry Ford
Do you consider yourself an optimist, a realist, or a pessimist? Many experts have opined on this topic as it relates to leadership.
Dr. Martin Seligman, a prominent researcher in the field of optimism, claims that optimism or pessimism lies in the way you explain the events that happen to you. Our thoughts can cause us to assess events inaccurately. They can also cause us to jump to erroneous conclusions.
Strong leaders are seldom characterized as pessimistic. By definition, if someone in a leadership role sees mostly negative outcome, it will be nearly impossible to rally the masses to meet a difficult challenge.
On the other hand, it is uncommon for dynamic leaders to see themselves as pure optimists. Someone with this view could be seen as a Pollyanna – a person who doesn’t have a grip on reality and believes that everything will eventually work out, regardless of evidence to the contrary.
Rather, the consensus view is that the most effective leaders are those who lean toward optimism.
Have you ever wondered why some people don’t seem to be motivated to take action, even when what you are asking them to do is clearly the “right thing” ?
Have you noticed that some desirable habits are relatively easy to develop, while you struggle to make other habits a part of your routine?
Have you become frustrated when someone repeats a poor habit or behavior, in spite of a recent detailed coaching conversation?
Dr. BJ Fogg of Stanford University developed a behavior model that helps us to understand how to influence someone. The Fogg Behavior Model shows that three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing or insufficient. His model is depicted in the graphic below.
“If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Earlier in my career, I had the opportunity to work with a group of four supervisors at a manufacturing site. I spent a week with each supervisor, with the objective of getting to know each person better. After a month rotating among the supervisors, it was clear that there were stark differences in how each of them related to their respective crews. The contrast in styles was greatest when comparing Mitch with Harold.
Mitch considered himself to be “old-school” and was proud of it. He had spent nearly twenty years in various line positions at the plant, eventually working his way into a senior operator role before being promoted to supervisor. He was a no-nonsense guy who ruled with an iron fist and a commanding voice. His philosophy was to set the rules and hold people accountable when they were violated. Mitch believed his primary responsibilities were to “keep the line running” and to “make sure that no one does anything stupid.” During the shift, he could often be found in the supervisor’s office area, unless the line was down for some reason. His crew tended to have the least senior people, mainly because there was a lot of bidding to move to another supervisor’s crew.
Harold also spent many years as an operator in the same facility before accepting a supervisor position. He had a calm demeanor and spent most of his time on the floor, listening to his crew members. He frequently answered any questions with a question of his own, “What do you think we should do?” Harold challenged his crew to come up with solutions, not just to identify the problems. I would overhear him privately praising each person, telling them that they were among the best operators he had ever been around. When someone made a mistake, he would make it a point to ask the individual what lesson was learned and what we could do differently the next time. Harold’s crew had the most senior people. It was clear that they respected Harold and valued the opportunity to work on his crew.