Active Influencers Check the Mirror

When you look in your mirror what do you see? Me or We?

Emma had recently been promoted to marketing director at her mid-size medical supply company. For the prior two years she had supervised a group that supported the sales team in the physician practices division. She made sure her group always met their deadlines (which they did). She cultivated a strong relationship with the physician practices sales team leader. Emma worked hard, was meticulous in her work, and had earned a reputation as a troubleshooter/problem fixer.

She was meticulous in her career-planning as well. Before finishing school Emma made a detailed vision board that charted the pathway to the future she wanted. Her recent promotion was yet another step toward that senior  executive role and C-suite office she coveted.

Along with Emma’s promotion came 40 more people and a spot on the divisional marketing team. Her new role required her to manage a staff of 55 and ensure that divisional marketing strategies stayed aligned with corporate strategies. She also had to maintain operational performance at the level the regional VP had specified in Emma’s personal performance plan.

To say Emma attacked her new role with vigor is an understatement. She came in day one on fire and stayed that way. In what seemed like a few weeks (to her) she walked into her regional VP’s office for her 90-day review/check in. She was excited, confident and armed-to-the-teeth with a spreadsheet showing everything she’d accomplished in her first three months. She greeted her boss and sat down expectantly. Her review did not go as planned. . .

In a nutshell, her boss was not happy – she was in fact quite unhappy. She did not mince words as she handed Emma the evaluation her key reports had been required to complete (anonymously).  Before Emma flipped the page to see her score, words like “won’t delegate”, “poor communicator”, “seems close-minded” jumped out at her. What really stung deeply, so much so that she had to fight back emotions, was the following comment. “Emma discounts all our previous knowledge of the marketplace, everyone has stopped giving her feedback and she has lost the confidence of experienced (savvy) area managers in a short three months. She just doesn’t listen to us.” As Emma read that sentence she slumped back in her chair. …

Despite Emma’s intense enthusiasm, work ethic, and drive she was clearly failing. It hadn’t yet occurred to her that as a leader she needed to periodically “check the mirror” — and get a good look at herself from a perspective other than her own.

Perception — We Are Never Who We Think We Are

We don’t perceive ourselves in exactly the same way others perceive us. That’s because everyone’s vision is colored by their unique views, attitudes and experiences. This won’t come as a surprise to most people. We are who other people think we are, not who we think we are. And because the “reality” of our identity exists solely in the minds and interpretations of others, we had better participate fully in understanding just how people see us. It’s not about being fake or less authentic. Our job as a leader is to make sure everyone understands our commitment and intention. Your intentions or internal perceptions are valid, but they need to be greatly informed by how you’re experienced in real time. You may be missing some allies and alliances by not engaging your key leaders in a shared discovery.

The “reality” of our identity exists solely in the minds and interpretations of others. . .

People don’t like being disregarded, not listened to, and feeling discounted. This is anchored in the most basic human need, which is to be heard. If someone truly feels listened to — even by a person who doesn’t agree with them —  it makes it possible to have dialogue. Several years ago William Isaac wrote the book “Dialogue” (which is a great read). In it, the key point he makes is that conversation with listening is what creates dialogue. If you don’t listen effectively  you’re not having a dialogue – you’re giving a speech. Knowing what we are truly committed to helps us become more effective at dialogue. In other words, if you can stop being committed to being right, winning the argument, (or worse) making someone wrong, you can become committed to listening. In Emma’s case, while listening wouldn’t have prevented all of her leadership problems, it might have taken care of 90% or more of them.

We can gain self-awareness by simply asking other people how we’re showing up in their lives. Seeking and openly receiving others’ stories about us creates opportunity. It may be uncomfortable, and unexpected, but as individuals and leaders we can profit greatly from it. The bottom line is this: our ability to accurately intuit how others see us greatly affects our ability to connect with them in any meaningful way. Until a person understands, accepts and acts upon this truth, their level of success will be limited.

Our ability to accurately intuit how others see us greatly affects our ability to connect with them in any meaningful way.

Focus on Self Before You Focus on Others

Newer leaders often don’t buy into the “focus on yourself first” philosophy. Those of us who’ve been around a while usually learn this, often the hard way. The long and short of it is – check the mirror first. If you don’t truly get who you are or what makes you tick, you’ll be of little help to others who rely on you for leadership and direction. Many of us feel we don’t have the time, opportunity (or desire) to “self-actualize” and/or engage others in self-discovery. Given the high stakes we have with being key leaders…we have to make time for it. Being an active influencer of results requires an effective level of self-awareness. Without doing this self-reflection work you may get results like Emma’s – a team that doesn’t respect you, understand your intentions, and lacks trust in your ability to lead.

Where Do You Start?

Get your head and heart in the right place before you submit yourself to a journey of self-discovery. It’s about engagement with everything and everyone around us and how we interpret ourselves within it all. Keep these thoughts in mind.

  • That which we are not aware of controls us.
  • That which we are aware of we have the possibility and power to start to change.
  • Awareness is accelerated by feedback that goes beyond just content and gets to the experience.
  • Our “essence” is how we show up, and how we show up matters. How we are being is what wins the day.
  • How people access who we are and what we value is their “experience” of us. We need awareness of how others experience us so we can self-correct.

The reality of influencing others consciously and appropriately requires that we understand ourselves and the influence we have on our own actions, thoughts and power.

The Biggest Asset You Have to Impact Change is You

This may be something you haven’t let yourself believe because it seems egotistical. This is far from some “ego trip”. This journey is about becoming untethered from your ego/identity as much as possible so that contribution, connection, and commitment become your focus. What have you noticed about your focus on your own self-awareness and personal power? Here are some very basic ideas to guide your thoughts.

  • Change ALWAYS starts with YOU!
  • Make spending time seeking clarity a priority.
  • Know that your filters and biases help and hinder the success of others. What are they?
  • Know when you can help and when to call in help.
  • Constantly seek to learn. Be curious and ask yourself, “What else should I know?” before making conclusions.
  • Owning your development means you truly commit to do the work required to grow as a leader and manager.
  • Once you have increased the awareness of your ability to actively influence (and own it), you can use that momentum to focus your attention appropriately to others.

This journey is about becoming untethered from your ego/identity as much as possible so that contribution, connection, and commitment become your focus. 

Knowing Thyself

The reality of influencing others “consciously and appropriately” requires that we understand ourselves and the influence we have on our own actions, thoughts and power. Below is a simple example that can help you identify if you are a REACTOR or a PROACTOR.

Notice the types of things you gravitate towards. These might be the things you feel you’re good at, or maybe comfortable with. Do you talk more, or do you listen more? Are you typically fixing what’s broken? Or, do you focus more on role modeling and observing? This quick gut-check can provide valuable clues – both in what motivates your actions and how others may be experiencing you.

Regardless of intent or effort, leaders can become better at influencing only if they are fully conscious of how others experience them.

How You Lead Impacts Others and Outcomes

INSIGHTS Inventory has been a great tool for my work with leaders and their teams. It’s simple, straightforward and intuitive. It speaks about Personal and Work Styles. They differ because our style can be quite different outside of work. The focus is about “flexing” and moving closer to other’s style to effectively connect. Flexing for some feels a little wish washy. For others it feels harsh. That’s really the point…each person has their style. The INSIGHTS Inventory tool is available online and I’ve used it in different countries and company cultures with consistent results. Style seems to be a universal perspective. There are 4 key areas of preference.

The key kicker in all of these areas is how we react when we are under stress. You can be better at influencing if you’re more conscious of how your approach impacts other people and flex towards their style. Making a choice to be engaged with someone in a way that is uncomfortable to you may be required at times. For example, being straight and assertive can be difficult for indirect people. Bottom line is — our style affects the ability for people to connect with us.

Perspective – Getting in or Out of our Own Way

Perspective is what stops us or propels us forward. If you’re honest you will find out that you often don’t have clarity of perspective around some very important areas. Your perspective matters more than you may realize. Think about:

  • What must you shift within yourself to change outcomes?
  • Where are you interfering with yourself and the team you lead?

With a clear perspective you can decide who you need to be for an employee or client in tough situations. This will inform what you’ll do and how you’ll engage others based on commitment. Get your mind right and not just act out of your automatic way of being. Self-correction and self-direction always inform conscious and intentional action.

Your perspective matters more than you may realize.

Developing “Other-Awareness”

As we learn more about others, we learn more about ourselves. A good beginning is to note how they take in information. The more you know about this the better you can convey information in a way they will best understand. I have been using a Practical Neuroscience tool that has proven extremely effective in getting teams and clients aligned around outcomes. We have a preference for how we like to take in information that involves our primary senses and once we take it in we have preferences for how we like to process it. Very practical to know when you want to maximize your influence.

Primary Sensory Modes 

Since individuals process information differently, it’s extremely helpful to have a sense of how they think so you’ll know how to connect with them better. You won’t get the best out of people by giving a global thinker a detailed work plan right off the bat, or by giving a sequential thinker a vision statement and expecting them to go from there.

Thinking Modes 

Actively Influencing Ourselves, Then Others

As you begin to practice becoming an Active Influencer there are some things that you can plan for, but much of what makes our success happens in real time. Following are two simple processes that you have to learn to follow if you truly want to be a proactor and not a reactor. You’ll see the second part is about results. Whether I want to admit it or not, I get paid and rewarded for producing results. That’s actually a good thing. It builds capacity for you, your people and allows the organization to provide for clients and employees. Being results-driven is not a bad thing. How we go about achieving results can be fraught with many missteps by leaders that are unnecessary and unfortunate.

One:  Active Influence happens in the moment when a leader will intuitively.

  • Assess
  • Gain insight
  • Recognize perception (you and others)
  • Assume appropriate role (Coach, Facilitate, Supervise, Mentor, Lead)
  • Determine right action (Alignment)

Two:  Influencing for Results happens when you get aligned with others.

  • To break out of the “fixing things” mode and running from one problem to another.
  • To solve and create solutions that are different than fixing something over and over.
  • Using strategic leadership to connect the dots and make sure you are solving for the right problem.
  • Understanding that poor customer experiences are generated by business processes, strategies and/or employees.

The next time you feel compelled to step into fix-it myself mode, think about getting your team together and just keep asking these strategic questions:

1. What do YOU really think is going on?        2. What does it mean for US?        3. What might WE do about it?

 What About Emma?

Most leaders don’t engage their team correctly. They don’t capitalize on the collective knowledge within their own team. They get lured into the age-old idea that they need to be the one to solve all the problems. That is not sustainable. Even worse, you will lose some very good leaders because they are not feeling listened to and able to use their expertise in helping lead the business. And so, Emma learned a hard lesson. Sometimes you get very few chances to “start out right”. She lost the team and there was no way she could get them back. Her boss had to make a move that would restore confidence with key strategic partners. Some bad decisions had been made that created strong rifts with longstanding customers, and Emma’s area managers felt the brunt of it. It could have been avoided had she been more personally aware and had a different perception of her role as a division lead.

Not all stories have a happy ending in the moment, but every ending has a lesson. Emma learned from this and she will get another shot at leading a group. It just won’t be with her current company. She is a talented and awesome young leader with great potential; she hasn’t done anything that many of us haven’t done during our careers as  leaders. However, when the stakes are high, and clients are involved it’s rare to get a “do-over” in the same company and marketplace. Fortunately, Emma is willing to do the necessary work. She’s going to be a great leader. Emma has learned to check the mirror — and she knows herself better than ever before.