Influential Leadership Part 1

Hello is anybody listening?Bitter Truths & Hard Lessons

Recently one of my friends buzzed me to discuss a problem that was eating him from the inside. Let’s call him Ram because that’s his real name :). He complained that his team members don’t value his feedback on the project. He also mentioned that he tried to help them in many ways, which wasn’t fruitful.

Here is the conversation we had:

Ram: I am annoyed that none of my team members listen to me. They don’t understand my problems. I am giving them useful feedback to better their work. Instead of appreciating, they complain. It’s insulting.

Pari: Ram, you spotted an important problem in the team and a critical one to fix. What did you do about it?

Ram: I summoned the team into a conference room and said that I am not happy with their work

Pari: What happened after that meeting?

Ram: There was pin drop silence in the room.

Pari: Did you see any changes in team members’ behavior after that meeting?

Ram: Nah! Nothing changed despite my effort to fix the problem. It’s demotivating!

Pari: (Sigh)

Ram was angry that he was not heard out. No one likes it when they are not respected especially when they are giving useful feedback [Note that what’s useful to the giver may not appear the same way to the recipient].  He felt insulted, demotivated and helpless. Perhaps he silently hoped that someone in an authoritative position must notice this problem and reprimand the team someday. Perhaps he hoped to share this story with someone in a similar position in the organization.

Do you notice a pattern in the conversation above? Ram thinks that the team can do better, but is not heeding his feedback. He doesn’t recognize that the team already thinks they are doing awesome. In return, he told the team that ‘he is not happy with their work’. He misled the team about the problem he wanted to solve. He didn’t talk about the value of fixing the problem. He didn’t advocate his claims well enough.

He didn’t know that there are ways to influence people. He sailed against the wind.

What is Influence?

On m-w.com, the definition is: The act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command.

Influencing Strategies work differently with different people. It can vary based on gender, nation, culture, background, upbringing and many other factors which are hard to fathom! At an organizational level, Influencing Strategies work in a slightly different manner than with our near/dear ones.

Influencing Sub-ordinates

Position power rules many organizations today! Position power is the power that most people use on other people in an organizational context. The higher the position, the higher the authority. Authoritarian leaders mandate; they may fail to influence. Over a period of time, people become factory workers who cannot think for themselves. They just do what they are told to do, for fear of getting caught thinking. Not people’s fault, sometimes!

Influencing Peers

Influencing peers is another challenge. Peers are on the same level technically. Everyone on the team thinks he/she is successful already. How do you influence such individuals in a positive way? At times, colleagues or peers will put someone down or giggle at good ideas or suggestions. In such scenarios, it’s good to find that *ONE* passionate person who thinks you are worth his time and spend more time influencing that person in good ways. This one person may later on grow to influence others for the better. Leading by example is a time proven strategy that can help in building an influential relationship with peers.

Influencing Leaders

I once worked with a leader, let’s call him John. John appeared flawless in every sense – he was technically strong, demonstrated great leadership skills and managed projects extremely well. His work standard was the benchmark in his business unit. He couldn’t go wrong. Ever!

One day, he went wrong. He misread a small piece of code that he reviewed during his daily commute to work. He reached the office, summoned the programmer in front of the team and reprimanded him for poor logic. Poor programmer didn’t say a thing except putting his head down and feeling like a loser.

John had failed. The leader in him had failed terribly. He failed at a technical level, ill-treated one of his team members in front of the team and demonstrated poor leadership. The programmer felt insulted for no mistake of his, yet he didn’t speak up. He didn’t feel powerful enough to raise his voice against John.

If John has to be influenced positively, there needs to be a leader who is powerful and more influential with him. This leader has to be someone who John looks up to.  This leader can be someone for the team too. For example, if someone from the team approached John afterwards and said, “I think you may have been unfair to programmer earlier”, it may have prompted John to introspect and take corrective action.

Leaders are leaders because they are already powerful and have high influence on teams. They are passionate, creative and aggressive with their goals. They must be influential enough to make decisions that can change the organization to do better and do the right things for teams. Quoting Dhanasekar Subramaniam, “Leaders emerge.”

Part 2 follows tomorrow. If you have a story to tell, we’d love to hear about it. Send it to us here!

 

About the Author

Parimala Hariprasad is the Master Shifu at Moolya. She coaches testers and helps them work on their awesomeness. She works with young and fresh minds who have the potential to sprout the seed of skilled software testing to a giant tree that benefits the world. She has extensive experience in testing, leading and coaching testing teams. She is a strong believer of team work and helps teams work together tow+ards a common end goal. She frequently rants about her experiences at http://curioustester.blogspot.com. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or write to her at parimala.shankaraiah@gmail.com. She would love to coach you on Skype at parimala.shankaraiah. She is also available on twitter at @CuriousTester.

Thanks to Steven Smith, Johanna Rothman and Jari Laakso for help in reviewing this article.

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