(Second of a two part series)
Below is part two of Kim Barnes’ interview for the Chilean Magazine, Capital Humano. The first part dealt with innovation. In the first part of the interview, Kim touched on influence and her interest in it, “I studied and observed patterns of behavior in individuals that seemed to help them lead others—leaders that people followed because they wanted to, not because they had to.” Below are Kim’s in-depth thoughts.
Influence in the Current Management Climate
In global companies and in organizations around the world, influence is considered a key leadership competency. In the recently published “IBM Global CEO Study“, it was cited as one of the top four competencies needed by leaders. (The others were creativity, integrity, and global thinking.) Leaders and managers often have to get things done through people who do not report directly to them—senior leadership, boards, customers, government agencies, the media; traditional power strategies do not work in those instances. In addition, organizations everywhere are becoming flatter, more team-oriented, more networked. Particularly if innovation is desired, the culture of an organization must have a climate and culture in which people with knowledge and skills and ideas can influence the decisions of senior managers. In order to keep top talent, leaders need the ability to listen and draw out ideas as well as to stimulate and shape those ideas to achieve business results. The best leaders are usually the best influencers.
Countries, Cultures, and Effective Influence
I think that cultures, whether we are talking about national cultures or organizational cultures, support influencing by having permeable boundaries. If there are strict rules about who can communicate with whom because of hierarchy or if there are strict boundaries between disciplines, influence and collaboration can’t happen. People can’t learn from one another.
The more open the society or organization is, the more influence that flows across boundaries, the more ideas can grow and develop with contributions from both expected and unexpected sources. People in these organizations know whether their ideas will be welcomed and listened to; if they have good ideas, they will take them where they will get a hearing and support. So in this way the ability of individuals to influence is closely tied to the ability of organizations to innovate and change in positive ways.
Influence versus Manipulation
In the Latin American countries sometimes the assumption is made that influence is the same as manipulating or selling for personal gain. We, however, use the word influence to mean a two-way process that is open and respectful of other people.
We see manipulation as being done in a secretive and dishonest way. When you influence someone, you expect to be influenced by them in turn. That is how things get done in organizations with a good influence climate. If I want you to do something—help me on a project, support my idea publicly, provide resources I need in order to get results—there are many open ways to influence you to agree to take the action. Perhaps you will be persuaded by my reasons. Perhaps you will share my goal or vision. Perhaps I can ask you to think about something you haven’t thought about before. Perhaps I can listen carefully to your needs and concerns. Perhaps I can offer you a fair, honest exchange for taking the action. There are many ways to influence, but it is meant to be done openly and fairly.
Influence and Executives
Many executives are good at expressing their needs or suggesting a solution often accompanied by a well-reasoned argument. Some of them are good at negotiating or creating a compelling vision that others want to strive to achieve. We call these Expressive Influence skills.
Fewer are good at the more subtle and difficult influence skills that we call Receptive Influence skills: drawing out information or getting other people to think in new ways, listening deeply to learn key information that may help them to negotiate or persuade more effectively, aligning with others or disclosing information in a careful, tactical way that builds trust and moves others to do the same.
Influence Skills, Tactics, and Behaviors: Getting Results
Very few people can get the results they need all by themselves. We need other people to help and support us, to cooperate and provide information and resources. Interpersonal influence can seem to be a very complex business. We all know people who are good at it and we might have wondered how they learned to be such effective leaders. By observing, researching, and studying patterns of behavior, we have found a way to teach these skills through a relatively simple and clear model that shows the main tactics and behaviors of effective interpersonal influence.
Of course, a model is not enough—you have to try the tactics and behaviors, practice them, and get feedback from others as to your effectiveness—but it gets easier. Over time, you add the new skills to the ones you already are good at and learn when each behavior is most useful rather than just trying the same ones all the time.
Einstein is supposed to have said that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again but expecting different results! Over the 16 years we have been teaching Exercising Influence, we have seen countless leaders and managers develop their skills. We often hear from them years after they have taken the course. They describe to us their accomplishments and how they have used what they learned in the class—and through reading my book, Exercising Influence (Pfeiffer/Wiley, 2006)—to achieve results.
I also know that people who take the class use it in their personal lives—with family and friends and in community organizations they are a part of. Open, effective, and respectful influence behavior is an excellent way to get things done when you need others to take action but can’t or don’t want to use coercive power to get them to do it.
Note: The excerpts were taken directly from Kim’s English responses to the questions. The entire interview, translated into Spanish, can be downloaded from our website.