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You walk into the room and everyone looks up. You have a presence.

The meeting goes on, but when you open your mouth to speak everyone quiets down because they want to hear what you have to say.

What makes you so captivating?

It isn’t your title or position – authority granted by someone else – it is because you are influential. People want you to be in their meetings, and they want to know what you think.

Does this describe you?
What if it could?

The power of influence

You need influence, especially at work.   You need to influence a hiring manager to offer you a job. You need to influence the team to take your approach on a project. You need influence to have more autonomy on your day-to-day activities.

Even if you have no desire to ever be a manager and just want to build on your technical skills, you still need to be able to influence others to continue to advance in your career. You need influence without authority.

The more senior your role, the more important it is to be sure that others understand what you’re doing, so that if you want to enlist other help on your project, you have people who are interested and excited about your work.

I don’t know what exactly your role is, but I would guess that you have had an experience where you wanted to work on a project that would drastically improve some inefficiency in your team, environment or technology – like a refactor, upgrade or automation.   However, despite your pleading you can’t seem to get the time or resources to see it through?

Early on in my career, this happened to me: I wanted us to staff a project I knew would reduce operations and tickets from customers. However, despite my pleading, and presentations full of data I was unable to sway my higher ups.

This experience was frustrating for 2 reasons: the fact the value of my idea never came to life, but also because I felt so frustrated in my inability to persuade people to do what I knew was right.

So over the years I have consistently focused on ideas and ways to be more influential. I’ve sought strategies to get people to jump on my bandwagon, and ways to help communicate my ideas more effectively.

And while I could easily fill hours with all I have learned, I have condensed it into 3 key lessons you can apply to your own life right now.

Since I have no doubt that the world will be a little better if more people hear what you have to say.


Secret #1: Accountability

If you want to be an influencer you have to be accountable to what you say and what you do. It’s through accountability that you will generate trust, reliability and respect.

Being influential begins with leading by example and holding yourself up to a higher level.

I am actually a little embarrassed by this story ….

When I first became a manager, I measured my success by title and the number of people on my team. I always thought that was an indication of influence and importance.

However, one day I was in this meeting, with a bunch of top-level leaders. When a critical decision had to be made, everyone would look to this one fellow in the room to weigh in.

The thing was, this guy was senior, but he had no direct reports and no impressive title. He was just an “engineer” but people cared more about what he had to say than anyone else. No one cared what I had to say even though I was managing a huge portion of the organization under the people at that table.

He was influential. I wasn’t. He was important, and I wanted to be important.

I made it my mission to find out why. In my research I learned two key things: he was known as a person who could get things done, and everyone trusted him because he always followed through on his commitments.

He defined accountability.

Trust is like a graph and you should do your best to impress each person, treat them well and follow through.

There are lots of ways to be more accountable, but perhaps the most important is showing up. This means being present, and following through on your commitments.

And a commitment isn’t just about projects and deliverables, but everything. This includes being on time.

This is a personal pet peeve of mine, because so many people are lax about this in the tech industry, and plenty of companies have every meeting start 5-10 minutes late.

Growing up my mom worked as a waitress, and being late pushed more work onto other people. So whenever I took too long to get out the she would remind me “being late is a selfish act, you are telling everyone that your time is more important than theirs.”

Next time you spend 5 more minutes to check your email or finish that task instead of being on time, be aware that you are sending a message about your accountability and dependability.

With accountability, you have to be a superstar. 

If all you ever do is what you are expected to do, what you are currently paid to do, then all you will ever get is what you are getting today. 

Be that person that everyone can rely on to get the job done and follow though. Understand what is being asked of you, deliver it, and do it in a timely manner – and you will build trust and be accountable.

Secret #2: Everyone is an ally

Everyone knows that they need to be nice to their boss, their boss’ manager, and on up the chain. And many people also embrace relationships with at least some of their teammates. However, a key aspect of influence is to learn to see everyone – even people you don’t work with directly — as an ally.

And there are key benefits to doing so. Hopefully you believe this, but let me try to convince you.

When I was working at Amazon my team’s software was used as building blocks for other teams. This meant that when something went wrong somewhere towards the top of the stack, we were on the hook too, at least until we could determine the cause of the issue.

Well one time there was a manager of another team who called me and was yelling. He was so upset, and wanted someone to blame for the problem. I felt defensive, but I managed to diffuse his anger by listening and then spent the next 2 days to help him diagnose and address the problem – in their software.

At the time I let it go, but then 6 years later I was interviewing for a job, and it turns out the CEO was friends with this fellow. I learned after I took the job that it was glowing recommendation that convinced them they had to hire me over everyone else – and I can’t help but think this endorsement made my salary negotiations that much easier.

The underlying factor of great success in business and personal life is the “friendship factor” and your can increase it by investing in relationships.

The world of tech is very small. You never know when a coworker can become a boss, or an ex-colleague may be asked to provide a reference for your job application.

And you are more influential than you think.

So take a moment and think of the courteous people, the friendly people, and the other people who make you smile and affect you in a positive way. Maybe someone held the door for you, or let you step ahead in line. Or maybe a coworker that helped you when you got stuck on a challenging problem. How do you feel after interacting with them?

Chances are, you likely feel better about your day and your world. These people may even encourage you to be a bit more courteous and helpful yourself.

Now think of all the negative interactions you have. The car that cut you off, or the person who doesn’t take the time to notice you, or listen to what you have to say. How do you feel then? Maybe you feel annoyed, or even angry; definitely not good.

Now turn the tables – think about all the times you have had a negative or positive influence on the people you meet. All of us have the ability to influence those around us. Everyone wants to feel special. And many of us fail to recognize our power to influence. As a result, we don’t harness it for the good of others and ourselves.

Everyone is an influencer to an extent, so make sure each interaction you have with someone results in a positive impression. If you only get one message in this whole article: please, take the time to make the world better for someone else.

Secret #3: Reciprocity

You can’t talk about influence and not mention reciprocity. Reciprocity is a social construct deeply ingrained in our social norms.

In a positive sense, it means that whenever you do something nice for another person, you create within that other person a sense of obligation. Since no one likes to feel indebted to someone else, it is likely the other person will pay you back you back, usually by giving you far more than you contributed originally.

Maybe you have had an experience like this….

In 2011, I started working with an executive coach and I wanted to share my experiences, and well – it just wasn’t appropriate on my employer’s blog. So I decide to share my experience on my personal blog. The content really resonated and traffic went from 100 to 1000 visitors almost over night.

And this got me writing more. It was almost like a game– what could I write that would engage more people?

I wrote what I knew – mostly things that were lessons I had to learn the hard way. My struggles and triumphs to be better at my job, get promoted, and level up in my career.

And as I started increasing the value of the content on my blog, a funny thing happened; I started to get a lot of value back from my blog.

I got smart, thoughtful comments. I made connections with brilliant people around the world. I had a stronger personal brand than I did before; one that helped me snag speaking opportunities like this one, interviews, jobs opportunities, and introductions to people I always wanted to meet.

The key to reciprocity is providing value. You have to have a currency that is of value to other people. And by sharing your value you will be surprised at all the great opportunities that come your way.

Now I am sure some of you may be thinking, but what currency do I have?
And I bet you have far more than you think.

It can be task oriented where your skillset, knowledge or effort can help someone achieve his or her goal. It can be related to people and through the relationships and the connections you can facilitate. Or it may be that you are likable and fun to be around – providing support when needed or bringing levity to tense situations.

Whatever you do to help or improve the lives of other people, it will come back to you.

This willingness on your part to contribute to helping others is a virtual guarantee that others will look for ways to contribute to helping you. In fact, the more you give of yourself without expectation of return, the more you will get back.

So as you go through the rest of your week, with each person, try to figure out what you can do to add value to him or her.

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When you look around, you will find that the most successful people are the ones who know, and who are known by, the greatest number of other successful people.

At every turning point in your life, you will probably have a person standing by with advice, support, direction and resources. The more people you know who are willing to stand by your side in those moments, the more successful you will be.

How do you get those people on your side? By being someone they want to help. Someone they see positively. Someone who can influence without authority or control.

The more influential you are, the more successful you will become.

Do your best work, treat everyone as if they are a customer, and give as much as you can, all the time. 

For more tips on influencing without authority, check out these Safari titles!

Tags: career, influence, leadership,

One Response to “The 3 secrets of influence without authority”

  1. ronell smith

    Kate,

    I think this is my favorite blog so far. You touch on something I think about every day, and which I don’t see enough people recognizing: The relationships you make can matter as much, if not more, than the actual work that you do.

    I remember wanting to work for ESPN, and having a small window of opportunity open via freelancing. When I visited one of the satellite offices to meet with my editor for the first time, she said her boss, a VP, wanted to take me to dinner. I had dinner, then breakfast the next morning with him.

    Five months later, I received a call, out of the blue, from the VP. “We’re opening an office in Florida. I need a strong business editor. You’re my guy.”

    Years later, he admitted that the first meeting and the relationship that followed are what greased the skids for me to move into the new role.

    I find that when I talk to execs and folks hoping to become execs each day, there is a huge disconnect between what people think gets them to the next level and what really propels them to the next level.

    More often than not, it’s not the work; it’s the relationship formed through work, an important nuance too many of us are missing.

    RS