Learn to be an Influential Leader
Do you want to increase your influence?
Do you want to find your voice?
Do you want to be a more powerful leader?
Of course you do.
Learning to be an effective, influential leader is a lifelong goal for most of us. That’s why I read all I can from as many different sources as possible.
Coach, consultant, and speaker Paul Larsen believes that anyone can become a more powerful leader. His new book, Find Your Voice as a Leader, offers a model to help everyone become a better leader. Paul’s many corporate roles, including Chief Human Resources Officer for a $3 billion organization, makes him an ideal teacher. I recently asked him to share his experience and the research in his new book.
What does it mean to “find your voice”?
As an executive coach, I partner with leaders across all industries and within all types of organizations. I have found that a resulting impact of the politics and the normative structures of organizations is that the creative talents, or voices, of leaders are stifled into an expected pattern of behavior. Leaders learn quickly that to succeed is to “go with the flow” and not make waves. Their unique voice can be easily silenced.
Thus, many leaders get lost in the noise of today’s chaotic business environment. They remain quiet instead of speaking up, even when they have an opinion. They follow someone else’s decision instead of doing what they really want to do. They let the chatter in their head get the best of them, and they end up second guessing every action or step they take. Or they remain with the status quo instead of taking any action at all. They hide behind others instead of making their own decisions.
To “find your voice as a leader” is to create a compelling and unique leadership brand by:
– Discovering your critical leadership VALUES;
– Creating a compelling vision to get the OUTCOMES you desire;
– Building relationships with INFLUENCE and credibility;
– Making decisions that reveal your COURAGE to take a stand;
– Communicating your overall EXPRESSION to create a lasting legacy.
Define Your Core Beliefs and Values
How do you define leadership values?
Your values are your core beliefs and ideals that guide your decisions, your worldview, your insights, your actions, and your communications. Your values are the principles you believe are important in the way you live and work. They determine your priorities, and, deep down, they are the measures you use to tell if your life is turning out the way you want it to. When your actions and beliefs match your values, life is usually good— you’re satisfied and content. This is the primary reason identifying your values is so important. Values exist, whether you recognize them or not. Yet, your leadership impact will be much more confident and stronger when you know and acknowledge your values and when you make plans and decisions that honor them.
What happens when our values are in conflict?
When your actions and beliefs match your values, life is usually good— you’re satisfied and content. However, when the environment and the accompanying actions and beliefs don’t align with your values, life feels out of sorts, and it can be a real source of discontent and unhappiness. This misalignment of our values is one of the core sources of dis-engagement at work and occurs on a very regular basis. We make compromises on a daily basis, and within our corporate environment, we make compromises as they pertain to values when matched against the values of the organization. But when these compromises are made on a consistent basis and/or the compromises create a very large “values gap” between the individual and the organization, this can result in a feeling of dis-engagement and lack of commitment. And it will not be solved until the individual decides to take deliberate action on this compromise and ask, “Is this the type of environment that will provide me the ability to do my best work or do I need to plan for a change?”
How does identifying your values set you apart from other leaders?
We are all governed by a set of values that act as our “inner GPS.” Our values govern our decisions, our judgments, our communication and our overall worldview. They shape who we are. Leaders who identify their core set of values and lead out front with their values are more confident, more courageous and more influential versus leaders who do not. Values are more than just a “set of words on a laminated card,” they are the core DNA of every leader and are the ingredients of the legacy each leader leaves behind.
Don’t Get Marooned on Intention Island
Why do so many people get stuck on “intention island”? If you find yourself stuck there, what steps can you take?
Leaders get marooned on “intention island” by making promises without following up with specific actions or outcomes aligned to those promises or intentions. Thus, they may have the “best of intent,” but what good does intent do if it is not followed by action? Thus, one of the activities I work on with leaders is to check the balance of their “I/O Scale.” Every one of their stated intentions should be mapped to a specified action and/or outcome. Many times, we find that their “I/O Scale” is out of balance and tipped with too many “Intentions” and not enough “Outcomes.” This is important to probe since this situation can manifest in the perception that the leader “is all talk and no action”; “has little influence”; “does not really care”; “wants to be liked but has no credibility to follow-up on their promises”… The list can go on and on. By mapping each Intention with an Outcome, the leader takes accountability for the purposeful impact they want to have.
Build Your Influence
Why is it essential to be influential as a leader?
Leadership is the blending of an art and a science. In my work, I find that many leaders are very capable when it comes to the science of leadership. They understand the technical component of how to lead…how to communicate…what is the right way and the wrong way to manage a team member. Where they need some coaching is around the art of leadership…how to finesse their “science” into an art form. And that is where the role of influence comes in. Any capable leader can direct their team to do a certain task…that is the science component of managing. But it takes a skilled leadership “artist” to be able to influence their organization to follow their vision. The ability to establish trusting and credible influential relationships with management, colleagues and peers who do not need to follow your direction is critical to your success as a leader. Building a brand of leadership based on your capability to influence your community sets any leader apart from their peer group.
How do you build your Influence?
Once you have identified your Values and created your Outcomes as a leader, how do you Influence and align yourself and your team to maximize your opportunities and garner the needed results? Recognizing and developing your spheres of influence, and what you can and cannot influence, is key to being successful in finding and using your leadership voice.
Influence is not created overnight, and it is not bestowed by an organizational chart. Influence evolves over time by the actions, decisions, and communications if the leader. Modeling your behavior based on your values and beliefs, i.e. “walking-your-talk,” is one of the first checkpoints people will assess as they determine if a leader has earned credibility and their trust, which are two hallmarks of an influential leader.
Learn to be a Courageous Leader
What does it mean to be courageous as a leader?
To grow and develop as humans, we need to be able to take some small (or large) steps out of our comfort zone. Not stepping out of our comfort zone breeds mediocrity and allows us to “stay safe,” which in turn can keep us in a rut. Being courageous is to first recognize your comfort zone and then with a clear vision in mind, take the necessary steps out of your “cz” to try out a new behavior, a new skill or a new worldview.
As a leader, demonstrating your courage may manifest in standing up for your opinion and beliefs; standing alone when your decisions or insights are unpopular or go against conventional wisdom; standing aside to let others have their opinion, recognition and credit; and standing together, i.e. collaborating, for the common good of the team, organization and/or desired result.
We’ve all worked with people who just don’t seem very self-aware. How do you improve your self-awareness?
The first step is to benchmark your perceptions of your leadership impact against the perceptions people have of you as a leader. What is your “brand perception” and how does it stack up against the community that matters the most to your leadership? This can be done a number of ways and with a variety of tools and activities. The key is for the leader to measure their awareness of their leadership style and impact with the awareness of the people they are serving. Even after this is completed, however, the leader needs to have a commitment to their growth and development.
The best–and most effective–leaders know how to adjust their style to fit the diverse individuals and different types of teams they work with. To be successful in influencing your outcomes is to really believe in your values…your beliefs. How can you expect people to believe in what you say if you don’t really believe it yourself? How can you expect to influence people if you are not clear on the values that influence you? Knowing who you are as a leader—your strengths, your weaknesses, your ethics, your judgments, your preferences, your reactions, your insights—provides you the mirror and reflection so that you establish trust, credibility and influence within all of your relationships…and not remain invisible.
Build Your Leadership Brand
Talk about the importance of your unique leadership brand. Why is it important? How do you go about developing it?
Your brand of leadership is what sets you apart from any other leader. It is the unique essence of who you are as a leader. It is your leadership style, your philosophy, your legacy, your impact, your presence. It is what people will remember of you as a leader, how you made them feel, how you made them think, your results, your influence, your overall impression and expression of how you interacted with your community to make a difference. Are you a brand that can be trusted, or are you a brand that people will run from and want nothing to do with?
Authoring and cultivating your leadership brand is a deliberate process starting with the identification of what you want your brand to represent, to stand for, to embody. Then through a series of purposeful activities and steps, your personalized brand is created over time via your insights, decisions, behaviors, and communications. I always tell leaders, “Your brand and legacy as a leader is already being created by others, so why not be accountable in your role as a leader and author it yourself?”
As you help people learn to develop their voice, what observations have surprised you?
All over the world, people constantly amaze me with their unique thoughts and innovations. The spirit of human potential, when aligned with deliberate and purposeful action, can have unlimited outcomes. I am never surprised by how committed people are to develop their leadership promise to themselves and to their teams and organizations. And, unfortunately, I am also not surprised at how the environment within organizations can stifle this creativity and the “unique voices” of leaders all in the name of the “greater good.” With all that we have going on within our current global environment, it is more critical now for leaders to find their voice and use it for a positive impact. Don’t be silent and hide in the shadows. Finding my voice as a leader changed the direction of my life, and I want to provide that same potential for other leaders. This is why I feel very fortunate and blessed to love what I do.
Find Your Voice as a Leader