How to Lead with Influence

Leading with power is outdated.  The old mantra, “tell them what to do,” and “put your head down and work,” is just not all that inspiring anymore, if it ever was.  As the workforce shifts, and millennials become the overwhelming 75% majority by 2025, they are changing the way we look at leaders.  Rather than looking up to them, and following quietly behind them, this generation is asking to be heard, and are willing to go above and beyond when a leader aligns their work with their natural talents and motivations.  Work with purpose is not just a nice to have anymore, employees are demanding it.  Otherwise, they fall into the 70% of our workforce that is not engaged, and they usually choose to change jobs as result.  At a minimum, less engaged employees are just not as productive, produce far more quality errors, and have more safety incidents.  All of which cost our economy a staggering estimated $400B annually.

So, what does it take to lead with influence?

Tell stories

Leaders that engage their team with “I remember a time when…” or “That reminds me of a situation when a team member…” to share their experiences are far more successful.  Stories give our audience context.  Plus, stories stick in our minds 20x more than just mere facts and figures.  Our brains are wired to connect stories with our own experiences, and the brain files it away in an area that is easier to recall later.  When a similar situation or person surfaces later in our lives, we recall the story, and can more easily apply lessons learned.

So how do you tell a good story?

It’s a simple recipe. The open, climax, and close matter.  Remember 8th grade English class?  The typical story starts of setting the scene with some imagery and character development, then builds up to a climax where the characters transform, or the situation changes, and then there is a resolution that wraps up the story in a nice bow.  A good resolution contains some lessons learned and tips for situations like this in the future.

As a leader, think about the time when you struggled, had a success, managed a conflict, provided feedback, or coached an employee to success.  What’s holding you back from sharing that story with your team?  Chances are they would enjoy it, and take away something to apply to their own development.

The next time your team member comes to you for advice, pause and ask yourself if this is a situation you have encountered before.  Rather than simply telling them play-by-play what to do, which is boring, and has little chances of being implemented, try a story.  Frame it within the context of the team member, saying, “I remember a time when I had a similar challenge.”  Connect the story to their experience by noting similarities, and describing who, what, where, when, and how.  Remember you were there, and the team member was not.  We often assume people know what we know.  They are hearing this for the first time, so take the extra time to paint the picture clearly.

A good story only takes a few minutes to share.  The thing about stories is that they stick.  We connect the lessons learned from them to our own experiences without having to be told what to do.  Being told what to do feels childish.

This brings us to our next influential leadership principle…

Ask powerful questions

Recall moments as a child when your parents told you to do something vs. when you had an idea and chose to do it yourself?  Your follow through on the task, and performance was likely far better when asked vs. when told.  For those of you that are parents, you see it with your children.  And, for leaders, you see it with your teams.

Leaders I coach often share, “how do I get team members to want to do what they are supposed to do?”  A simple question, with a far more complex challenge behind it.  I have no idea how to answer this question, because I do not know the team.  Instead, I offer a series of questions, including:

  • Tell me about what the team member does well (we often forget that they are mostly good, just may need a tweak on their attitude or motivation, or this may be a completely new skill for them and they are learning)
  • Share how you have provided feedback to this team member before (we usually have avoided the tough conversation, so the team member is clueless of our perception)
  • How have you asked them about the impact of their behavior on the team (peer pressure works, and when the team member says this out loud, they cannot help but want to change the behavior)

The team member likely does not know about the issue, does not understand how important the issue is, or does not yet have the skills to do the task.  With the absence of feedback, coaching, and recognition and redirection, it’s usually not their fault, it is the leader’s fault.

Leaders ask rather than tell.  This can be a challenge with team members that are not self-aware or over rely on advice from leaders.  When a team member indicates they do not know, here are some other questions I keep in my leadership back pocket are:

  • What would you do if I was not here?
  • What if your (fill in the blank friend/peer/trusted advisor) were here, what would they say?
  • What if you did know?

Pared with story, questions are powerful.  Then layer in some vulnerability, and you’ve got yourself an influential leader in the making.

What does being vulnerable mean to you?

Be vulnerable

I often share my first impression of the word vulnerability – like walking around without any clothes on.  It’s being naked, raw, and uncomfortable.  It’s no coincidence that leadership guru, and founder of the Table Group, Patrick Lencioni, wrote Getting Naked about this very topic.  He and the amazing researcher and storyteller, Brené Brown, have been talking about this for years.  Only now with the changing demographics, and motivations of today’s workforce, is it becoming a necessity rather than a nice to have.

Lencioni’ s videos on YouTube are hilarious and insightful.  I use them all the time when I facilitate leadership courses.  One of my favorites is when he shares, “We’re taught as leaders, do not let them see you sweat, and real leaders raise their arms (pointing to his armpit), and say ‘check this out’!”  It’s a brilliant illustration of how we’re programed to not be vulnerable, yet the leaders we usually really love and want to follow share their mistakes and failures.  They’re humble and real.

Brown has another take on vulnerability.  In her latest book, Rising Strong, she shares a framework – the s***** first draft – also known as the SFD.  It weaves in storytelling with vulnerability.  See, she found in her research that we often tell ourselves a story the first time that is worst case scenario.  It’s usually not true, and it is our go to place to feel safe and protect ourselves from the dangerous world around us.  She shares a story about her and her husband swimming across a lake.  They are halfway through the swim, when she turns to him and begins to have a conversation, yet he continues to swim on.  In her mind, she begins writing her SFD.  He doesn’t think she looks good in her speedo and is not interested in what she has to say.  In the end, she confronts him, and he simply was in the zone swimming.  It had nothing to do with her.  After she shares her SFD of how she felt, he says, “you’re rocking that speedo,” to validate that her story simply was far from the truth.  Sound familiar?  The next time you feel vulnerable, playback your SFD to yourself, and ask others around you what they think.  Chances are by sharing your vulnerabilities, you will feel much better, and learn that your SFD is not true.

Leaders that tell stories, ask questions, and are vulnerable are truly influential.  How will you lead with influence?

#leadership #influence #communication