A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, entitled, “What Sets Successful CEOs Apart” presented four attributes of the best leaders:
- Deciding with speed and conviction
- Engaging others for impact
- Adapting proactively
- Reliably producing results
Each of these rely heavily on one central leadership skill: INFLUENCING.
In deciding what to do, CEOs must immediately consider who they need to influence. Influence is the essence of engaging others for impact. Proactive adaptation basically means evaluating and revising action plans and influencing key stakeholders to make mid-course corrections. And, to reliably produce results, CEOs must get and maintain buy-in among those stakeholders. This requires consistent, continuous influence.
In working many years with CEOs, I have discovered five keys to becoming (and remaining) a strong influencer:
- BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND. Your employees and other stakeholders must know that you know where you want to go. Ambiguity here destroys the very foundation of influential leadership. While the easy answer is “we want to make money,” that isn’t enough. You should address why you are in business (your vision), why customers should buy from you (your value proposition), and how you will operate to deliver that value (your operating premise, processes and systems).
- KNOW YOUR STAKEHOLDERS. Who are the people you must influence within your company—and outside it— to accomplish your vision, deliver value, and successfully operate your company? Identify “what’s in it for them.” Ascertain where you will have support, as well as where you will likely meet resistance.
- WIN THEIR HEARTS! The old axiom, “People don’t care about what you know, until they know how much you care” is true. Further, they won’t care about your goals and plans if you don’t demonstrate that you sincerely care about them. This requires a consistent time investment in building and maintaining relationships.
While some CEOs see this as a waste of time, it is not! A broad-based study by Harvard Business School Professor John P. Kotter concluded that leaders “with highly structured workdays and rigid schedules close off channels—such as chatting in hallways and calling impromptu meetings—that would otherwise provide vital information and valuable relationships.”
The best leaders are naturally observant of and responsive to the interests, emotions and attitudes of stakeholders. They have a sincere desire to see others succeed in their work and their lives outside of work.
- WIN THEIR MINDS. While relationships are vital, CEOs must never lose sight of the critical need to reliably produce results. The influential leader is a strong communicator of goals, strategies, projects and processes. This requires careful preparation of what you want to communicate, and how you want to communicate it. Get your facts and figures together.
Winston Churchill once said, “I detest those who, before they get up, do not know what they are going to say; when they speak, do not know what they are saying; and when they have sat down, do not know what they have said.” Churchill was the epitome of preparing his messages before sharing them, and he rallied a beleaguered Britain to stay the course until World War II was won.
In winning over minds, recognize the great value of input from your stakeholders. Ask for it, even demand it. While you must be ready to defend your ideas, don’t insist that everyone agree with them. Foster positive debate. Strive to remove fear of reprisal for contrary opinions. Facilitate discussion leading to commitment and action.
- ASSURE COMPETENCY. This component of influence may be the most crucial of all. The first four keys build motivation in pursuit of strategies and goals. But motivation without competency is a double-edged sword, and both edges will kill you! Stakeholders who come to an initiative without competency to do the job will fail. Having failed, they will become cynical about future initiatives, and will soon distrust your leadership. They will put up ever-thickening walls of resistance to your influence—and you will also fail.
To assure competence, people must clearly understand what is expected of them, and they must be well-trained. Further, they must have the facilities, equipment, budget and resources to do the job.
Often the most important resource is YOU! Take care not to micro-manage, but don’t disengage.
My career has been dedicated to helping CEOs succeed. While there are many attributes and attitudes that are beneficial in that pursuit, none is more central to meeting the challenge of leadership than influence.
Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses.