If you’ve recently moved into a leadership role with a new company or stepped in to save a flailing team, the ability to influence employees is critical to your success.
Unfortunately, too many leaders think that being influential means barking orders and kicking their feet up while everyone else does the heavy lifting. All that ever gets anyone is a squabbling team, missed deadlines, and stalled projects.
From a leadership perspective, being influential is the ability to get your people on board. You do this by gaining their trust and respect – read more about both in last month’s post – which can take time, especially if you’re just starting out. These five strategies can help.
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Your Hands Dirty
Leading a team through a complicated project is about more than dropping in on weekly meetings, delegating tasks, and then disappearing into your office. Leadership requires constant, effective communication. Team members must know your door is always open, but if you want them to walk through, you’ll have to extend an invitation.
Stay in touch. Follow up on emails. Instead of waiting for them to come to you with a problem, take the initiative to ask questions, and solicit feedback on ways to make the process easier or more streamlined.
Of course, staying connected isn’t a free pass to micromanage. Being a leader is like being a teacher. If someone is stuck, sit down with them and ask questions about where they’re having issues. Maybe offer a different perspective or idea but don’t do the work for them. You want to empower your team, not enable them.
Do Your Homework
One sure-fire way to lose influence is to come into a meeting unprepared. It’s important to solicit input, but that’s not the same thing as fishing for information because you didn’t do your homework. Especially at the beginning of a project, or when you’re new, it’s critical to have as much background information as possible. Make sure that you’re clear on:
- Expectations: What precisely is the team working to accomplish? Who answers to whom, and how will the teamwork together to get everything done.
- Timeline: Do you understand the milestones? Are they realistic? If not, what needs to shift so that people will have an easier time hitting deadlines?
- Deliverables: What is the client expecting, and who is responsible for each item? What tasks do you need to accomplish first before you can move onto the next?
- Communication: How will you communicate? How often? Does everyone know their direct report?
Own What You Don’t Know
Of course, there are always some unknowns at the start of a project. Scopes evolve, dates shift, and you may even need to reassign roles. It’s OK not to have all of the answers. Admitting when you don’t know something is an act of vulnerability that will endear you to your team and grow your influence much more effectively than lying to save face.
Instead of pretending that you know it all, keep communication flowing in both directions. Solicit input right from the beginning. Ask your people what challenges they anticipate, given what they do know. Then layout a contingency plan based on those potential obstacles so that you can keep everything moving forward if they hit.
Get to Know Your Employees
You want people to follow your lead because they trust you, not because you’re higher up on the organizational chart. Building trust starts by building rapport. Get curious about your employees and ask questions that transcend the project at hand. Do they have kids at home? What do they like to do in their spare time? Go deep about their strengths, aspirations, and values.
When you get to know your team members as human beings, you can assign them tasks that bring out their strengths or offer exciting challenges. This approach will help them engage with the work, deliver faster, and take ownership of the project, and you’ll be able to use your human resources more wisely.
Communicate an Inspiring Vision
Your team members want to feel connected to their work. They want to be inspired. It’s your job to show them why a project is worth getting excited about. When you can communicate a big-picture vision, you help everyone see the connection between their success and the company’s bottom line, broaden your influence, win fans for life, and ensure that the work gets done.
Remember, influencing your people isn’t about telling them what to do and taking credit for their wins. It’s about engaging with them every step of the way to prove that you’re just as invested in a project’s success as they are.
If you want to develop an influential personal brand that inspires employees to do their best work, I can help. Give me a call today.