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Are You Ready to Accept Challenge of Influence?


Are You Ready to Accept Challenge of Influence?

When I met Jessica*, I was immediately struck by her passion and clarity. 

She was a woman on a mission! She could see that her company was committed to doing things the way they’d always been done, and it was causing the best-and-the-brightest to jump ship. 

As she explained it, people were leaving because they wanted to be part of an organization that was changing with the times; one that reflects the world we live in today, and not (like her company) a relic of the past.

Fueled by the disappointment that some of her top talent had chosen to leave and armed with an awareness that things must change, Jessica was determined to shake things up and embark on the challenge to influence.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jessica’s courage and aim. She’s in for an uphill battle against ‘the-way-things-have-always-been’ and she knows it.  But I cautioned her to consider her approach. Because however right we think are, making others wrong doesn’t lead to influence.

As many of you know, my favorite definition of authenticity, in relation to leadership and influence, was coined by former Medtronic CEO and Harvard Business School professor Bill George: Authentic: genuine, worthy of trust, reliance, and belief.

Authentic: genuine, worthy of trust, reliance, and belief

The thing about authenticity, from a leadership-influence-perspective, is that you don’t get to decide whether you’re “authentic” or not – that decision lies in the eye of the beholder.  Now that’s great, when you’re leading or influencing people who think just like you!  But it gets rather complicated when you’re trying to shift perspectives of people who see the world differently.

So if Jessica really wants to ignite change in her organization, she needs to take a step back and ask herself:  What do the people I wish to influence need from me to experience me as genuine, worthy of trust, reliable, and believable? 

How might that inform the way she prepares for her next conversation with them?

How might that change the way she talks and listens to them?

Because like it or not, if we wish to truly influence those who see the world differently than we do – to create real change – we cannot approach the conversation from an I-am-right-you’re-an-idiot-perspective.

No one on the planet opens their mind to someone who treats them like an idiot.

No one on the planet opens their mind to someone who treats them like an idiot

I won’t lie. Post-election, I’m having a really hard time doing this right now. I feel caught in an emotional whirlwind and any attempt I make to try to understand the needs of others feels like a betrayal of my most sacred beliefs. Yet, I know I must. If I seek to truly influence and not alienate, I have to find a way to understand, at a human level, the needs of people who look at the world differently from me. As Stephen Covey articulately put it, “Seek first to understand, and then be understood.” Even as I type this, I feel my stomach clench and my emotions pooling behind my eyes; the enormity of this challenge is so overwhelming. This is the challenge before us.

All of us.

If we seek to influence & not alienate, we have to understand, at a human level, the needs of people who look at the world differently

You want to make change? You want to do more than talk-to-yourself or sing-to-the-chorus?  Improve your odds.  Authentically engage in the conversation.

It’s certainly not going to be easy. Real change never is.

But might it be worth it?

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