When bulls collide – why senior managers need to master using influence instead of power

Over the past year we’ve been working on 3 leadership projects with plant managers across Europe and the US. These projects have involved coaching talented operational managers on the verge of promotion to a more strategic level. For many of these managers this is a surprisingly tough jump. They are now no longer the sole “go-to “decision maker for their teams. Now they need to get the buy-in of their superiors and peers as part of getting their job done. … they need to influence others.
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Moving from a telling to an asking approach when influencing

For managers with a telling or “push” influencing style, this transition creates a particular challenge as they need to move from a “telling” to an “asking” approach when influencing others. Those used to telling others what to do are generally used to quick decisions and immediate actions. Until now they have relied on their “power”… and have been relatively successful so far in their careers!  Their power can come from:

  • organizational authority (“I’m the plant manager” )
  • expert status (“I’ve got 15 years of experience in this area”)
  • information power (“I was involved in this from the very beginning “)
  • or just sheer charisma (“I know you’ll follow me”)

Indeed, quite often the manager is so used to exercising power that they don’t know the difference between power and influencing. Part of our role in the training is to help them see the tangible differences between “I want you to do X and you do it. How you feel about it is secondary.” (power) and  “ I know you’ll do what needs to be done because you want to do it and believe it is the right thing to do.”  (influencing).

When bulls collide and why influencing by power stops being effective

Imagine two bulls colliding and locking horns. When two push-style leaders try to share the same operational space, problems can come up. During training and coaching we’ve heard this expressed as “He doesn’t listen to me”, “She discounts my expertise” and “It’s his way or no way”.  When we’ve dug deeper and asked them how they have tried to influence the others, we often find they are solely relying on a directive or persuasive style of influencing (push styles) – as opposed to a collaborative or visionary style (pull styles).

Why different influencing styles matter

As part of our influencing training we work with clients to help them understand and use different influencing styles. No style is better or worse than another – each has its strengths and weaknesses, and each has its place.  However, as Dale Carnegie so visually described in How to win friends and influence people applying one style to every situation is like “fishing with strawberries” … in other words ineffective and ultimately pointless.  As the managers move to a more strategic role and need to deliver results in cooperation with other senior managers they need to develop different influencing styles. They need to sometimes “ask” and not just “tell” – to “pull” and not just “push”, and to let go of getting things done through their “power” alone. So what to do?

Stop “telling” and start “asking” – 5 practical steps to influence other senior managers

As Marshall Goldsmith coined “What got you here, won’t get you there”. Relying on power alone won’t deliver the commitment needed for individual and organizational success. Senior managers need to master influencing as they climb.

  • Acknowledging that the style and methods you are used to using aren’t working is a first big step. This may feel uncomfortable and sometime this can take far longer than you might expect!
  • Being willing to try something different is the second. A simple tip is to always present more than one good option. If you are trying to influence somebody who is also a directive “push” influencer, keep in mind that (like you) they really dislike being boxed in with only one alternative. One alternative feels like an order. If you hear yourself saying “We have to…” or “Our only real option is…” it means you are probably still relying on your power.
  • Put yourself in their shoes and try to find out what is important to your counterpart and include it in your reasoning. Let the other person know that you are trying to use their frame of reference. If you don’t know their interests and what they value, it is important to find out. Let him know that his success matters to you too. This blog post offers questions to consider as you try to understand your counterpart.
  • Know what you can control, can influence and need to accept [https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/control-influence-accept.htm]. Expand your influencing zone by developing more influencing tools.
  • And then consider what you are going to say and how you will say it. This blog post on Linking and building to successfully influence others is worth your time.

If you would like to know more about how we have successfully provided influencing training in face-to-face and virtual delivery formats across Europe and beyond then don’t hesitate to contact us.

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