The Influence Effect
Power is a tool, influence is a skill; one is a fist and the other is a fingertip.
— NANCY GIBB
Imagine you're on the beach watching a group of men and women surf. It's a sunny day and the wind is whipping while the beach warning flags snap in a rhythm. There are rip currents in effect and most people keep close to shore, worried about the dangerous conditions.
You watch the surfers chatting and laughing in the water as they wait for their wave. Two surfers approach a wave and decide it's not big enough. Another group paddles toward the largest wave in the set; they deftly jump on their boards and grab what looks like the best ride of the day. You marvel from the shore — how do they make it look so easy, graceful, and even fun? Surfers will tell you that it takes practice and a large dose of courage. They understand how to factor in overlapping elements seamlessly to achieve the ride they want. Expert surfers can see a wave approaching and calculate how many seconds they have before it will break. They can spot a wave that will break gradually, so they can ride across the crest as it slowly closes. Experienced surfers look like artists, masters of their craft.
This dynamic is what we want for women. We want you to become masters of influence. Like surfing, or any complex endeavor, achieving influence as a leader is seldom simple. It requires practice to master the skills, and experience to perfect the timing and execution. Also, like surfing, influence requires an awareness of what's happening below the surface to accurately size up the situation.
Unlike surfing, understanding influence is mandatory for anyone who wants to sell his or her ideas and aspirations to others. Influence — the capacity to impact agendas and outcomes and bring other people on board — is ultimately the tool people use to get things done. All of us know influencers: we see them in action every day and we take note. Some influencers are the change agents and transformational leaders of our organizations; others are the subject matter experts and technical specialists. Still others are the bold problem solvers who cut through complexity and ambiguity. The truly influential individuals among us demonstrate enviable talents that fuel and sustain their success. These are attributes such as executive presence, confidence, determination, passion, empathy, and the ability to build trust. Regardless of what influence looks like or how it is accomplished, it is without a doubt a key component in career success for all of us as individuals and leaders.
Our objective throughout this book is to describe the strategies of influence and tailor them for women. We believe influence is the best tool we can use to break past the gender barriers that many of us experience as female executives.
Our original research, combined with our experience training and coaching over thirteen thousand female leaders over the span ofsixteen years, has shown us that greater influence equals greater advancement. We have found that influence, for women, is a proxy for the formal power only a few of us have achieved.
That's why we've written this book — to give women the skills they need to succeed at the highest level. Our research showed very clearly that women believe that influence suits their leadership style. The women we interviewed did not recoil from influence as they did when they talked about office politics.
This draws on a thread that connects all our findings: what works for men at work wont work for women. When we try to apply advice created by men and for men, it doesn't feel right to us. In the same way that wearing a business suit designed for a man is uncomfortable for a woman, listening to ill-fitting, poorly tailored advice creates friction and slows us down. This book eliminates the friction by introducing five key strategies that women can use to achieve influence on our own terms and in our own time.
The Influence Effect: Why It Works for Women
Bridget, a regional director at a real estate development firm in Detroit, told us why she works hard to cultivate influence. In her own words, "It keeps me moving ahead in my career and I use it as a lever to drive change."
A few years ago, Bridget wanted to completely revamp the key processes for how her company interfaced with clients. It was an ambitious undertaking aimed at disrupting, and vastly improving, a sales infrastructure that had been left in place for decades. Part of the plan was to reshape the leadership team to hasten the information flow and streamline decisions so that deals could get done quicker. She spent weeks working the numbers, designing a business case, and practicing her pitch.
"Those initial actions were just the table stakes," Bridget told us. "The far more difficult and tedious test was clearing the political landmines that were buried across the organization."
Early on in her effort, Bridget was confronted by two powerful colleagues who had a vested interest in preserving the status quo. There were others, as well, who might choose to align against her to block the path to change, but Bridget acted with determination.
Throughout a two-month period, she met with every decision maker separately. She adapted her plan numerous times. She negotiated with each faction to account for their objections. She courted and eventually won over the skeptics and found the right message to neutralize the two entrenched critics. Ultimately, she made the formal pitch to the board and the idea was implemented. When the new structure was finally rolled out across the business units, it must have looked as though Bridget simply jumped on her surfboard and took off. But that's not the way it worked.
As she told us, "What most people saw happening was the result of a well-orchestrated influence campaign that occurred below the radar." In short, influence must be cultivated. It may not be easy at first, but with practice you can become a master.
The Influence Effect is the phrase we use to describe the positive lift that we, as women, experience as we use influence to make our voices heard, create powerful connections, and drive our agendas. The Influence Effect creates a ripple that amplifies our words and actions, attracts followers, and creates a new path to power for us.
A first part of delivering the Influence Effect is reframing the office politics discussion to eliminate the emotional baggage of the phrase "office politics" and put it into a new conceptual frame that suits the style of women.
Many of the women we coach, and those we've interviewed, believe that practicing "office politics" may imply that they are being "Machiavellian or inauthentic." Christi Deakin, a Wells Fargo executive, agreed with the consensus, saying, "The word maneuvering sounds negative or dishonest." We need to increase our power and be more politically savvy, the women acknowledged, but office politics did not register with them as the right tool.
This reframing is necessary to help us move beyond the negative mind-set and practical limitations that are associated with office politics. As Kathy Ridge, CEO of Levridge Resources, told us, "Influence aims at shared goals that are in the organization's interest. Whereas, politics often seems to focus purely on individual rewards." Likewise, another client of ours told us, "I prefer to engage in influencing as opposed to practicing pure politics, because I view influence as positive and transparent."
This practical reframing helps us break past the politics that our research told us holds women back. This is an important prerequisite that sets us up for success; yet it is only part of understanding why cultivating influence works so well for women. We found that the Influence Effect elevates women for several important reasons.
1. Influence suits our leadership style
Women should never need to act like men in order to succeed as leaders. Cultivating influence allows us to win at work while remaining true to our chosen leadership style and code of conduct. In our research, for instance, we heard that many women want a relationship-based approach to success. We won't generalize that all women are alike, but many told us they don't feel the need to chase quick political wins. Instead, they work to achieve success in ways that are subtly different. Their adrenaline is primed by going after bigger-picture, qualitative objectives such as building trust, cultivating strategic relationships, and steering change and reform. In short, influence helps women focus on the following:
Collaboration over coercion
Cumulative advantage over quick wins
Inclusion over zero-sum gains
Change over status quo norms
2. Influence can be actively cultivated
Many of us feel sidelined in our careers because we are uncomfortable engaging in political maneuvering and power plays. Another roadblock is the enduring gender stereotypes that hold us back from advancement. Focusing on achieving influence puts the power to act back into our own hands. It keeps us actively engaged and advancing toward our goals. Even better, influence can be learned, practiced, and perfected using the Big Five strategies we present in the following chapters.
3. Influence is a tool for the times
Organizations are flatter, less hierarchical, and more matrixed than ever. In an age in which collaboration trumps individual interest, the use of influence suits our needs far better than political maneuvering and power plays. Influence creates deeper connections and better access points and enables us to advance in our careers in new and better ways. Similarly, influence is all about reaching out to others and cultivating strategic relationships. The women we coach are drawn to using influence because it helps them move ahead with their agenda despite complexity and ambiguity.
4. Influence creates a new way to work
Perhaps the most important reason we are making the case for influence as a tool for women is that it is a path to change and progress. Although women hold 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, American women lag miles behind men when it comes to their representation in leadership. As of 2017, we hold only 5.8 percent of CEO posts in Fortune 500 firms and just 19.9 percent of board seats in the Fortune 500. In high tech, women represent a mere 30 percent of the workforce, and that percentage plunges when you examine the makeup of the management ranks. In academia, far fewer women than men are awarded tenured positions each year. The list goes on and on. In every industry, from private equity investing to network television, women are underrepresented at the top and we are paid less throughout our careers for the same work. We can cry foul about the data, and yet it is far more difficult to find a solution to this enduring gender divide. That's why we have written this book.
Now, let's step into the water and begin riding the waves.
Influence is a key component in career success and advancement for women. It can be a proxy for the formal power we have yet to achieve.
Influence helps us focus on cumulative advantage over quick wins, inclusion over zero-sum gains, and change over status quo norms.
Influence is a skill that can be learned, practiced, and mastered using the five strategies we will explore in this book.
The Influence Effect is the phrase we use to describe the positive lift that we, as women, experience as we use the tools of influence to make our voices heard, create powerful connections, and drive our agendas.
Think Bigger, Aim Higher
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
— MARY OLIVER
Anne headed marketing for the education division of an e-learning company. For eleven years, her job was to work with school systems to provide customized interactive materials to improve student performance. Anne had a reputation for being creative and energetic, and she earned the support of several key leaders, including the chief marketing officer (CMO), who hired her and was her direct supervisor.
Over the years, Anne became comfortable in her job; she earned a bit of autonomy for herself and created a lifestyle with predictable hours and the ability to work from home. She liked her job and even recalled a time when she felt poised and ready for bigger and better challenges at the company. But more recently, every time she thought about making a change or sponsoring a new project, she froze. She wanted to dream big and be dynamic, but she wasn't even sure what that might look like. To make matters worse, the company had become mired by bureaucracy, which led to lackluster results in Anne's unit.
After two years of sluggish sales, the board demanded action. The CEO fired the CMO, and Anne's comfortable life was turned upside down. The new CMO reorganized the division and hired three new marketing executives. Anne found herself reporting to a new boss, instead of directly to the CMO. The new boss treated Anne as if she were part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Anne was stunned and felt as if she were being punished.
Anne tried to remain positive, working hard to win over her new boss. She put forward new ideas, but she couldn't gain any traction. Anne was left wondering, what happened here?
Like many of the women we coach, Anne lost sight of her career goals for a time. She was talented and achieved enviable success, but then she hit a wall and became complacent. Anne did not have the time or the energy to make change happen for herself or for her department.
Anne's story typifies the challenge many of us face when we first wade into higher levels of leadership: we fail to think big. It is hard work! Anne aimed low and stuck with the status quo instead of creating the change she knew needed to occur. As a result, the change happened to her.
THE UNWRITTEN RULE: Bigger Really Is Better
Let us coach you for a few minutes. Close your eyes and visualize yourself achieving everything you want for yourself professionally. Allow your mind to imagine two or three possible paths for your career. To make this exercise easier for you, we will add two conditions. First, you cannot remain in your current position. You must do something different, bigger, with broader impact. The second condition is this: no matter what you choose to do, you cannot fail. This is good news! Get busy and visualize some options for yourself. What would they look like? What would you be doing? Think bigger. Aim higher. What is the secret career goal you haven't told anyone? What do you really want for yourself?
Thinking bigger is critical for several reasons.
1. It delivers big ideas. Big thinking signals change — it generates action. It gets us beyond the here and now and forces us to think about the future. Thinking bigger is associated with solving big problems and achieving big dreams.
2. It helps us attract followers. Big ideas are engaging and exciting. They inspire others to join our cause and they brand us as visionary leaders. People admire and follow individuals who are brave enough to imagine a bold future instead of thinking small.
3. It leads to bold decisions. Once we train our brain to think bigger, our lofty vision serves as the filter for future decisions. Thinking bigger helps us proceed courageously and dynamically.
Thinking bigger and aiming higher sets us up to have options and the courage to pursue them. Yet, this is admittedly challenging in a complex world in which we can easily become paralyzed by uncertainty and ambiguity. Like Anne, we need to summon a great deal of courage in order to super-size our thinking.
LIMITING BELIEFS That Lead to Small-Time Thinking
Many of us admire big thinkers, but we seldom see ourselves in that role. Why is that?
Limiting beliefs in women stem from multiple sources. One source is outdated gender stereotypes that box us into traditional gender roles: "Women are not supposed to be ambitious"; "Women should be nurturers, not leaders." Limiting beliefs also originate in the dark place within ourselves where self-doubt and denial reside. In our work with women leaders, we focus on coaching women to replace the limiting beliefs they harbor about themselves with positive messages. We can learn to funnel our energy in a positive direction. All of us can take steps right now to change our limiting beliefs.
Before moving full steam into the specific tools that women can use to think bigger, let's look at three common limiting beliefs and start to set them aside.