Podcast: How to Influence Others as a Manager

In this episode, Charles Rogel and Jefferson McLean discuss one of DecisionWise’s core leadership competencies: Influencing Others. They will be diving into the definition of what it means to influence others, whether as a leader or a peer, and how to identify who the influencers in your organization are using a 360-degree assessment.

Best practices for how leaders can use their influence with purpose and improve the employee experience include:

  • Build rapport within relationships
  • Become an active listener
  • Demonstrate commitment to your team

How to Influence Others as a Manager Transcription

Charles: Hello and welcome to the Engaging People podcast. My name is Charles Rogel. I’m a Senior Consultant here at DecisionWise. Our presenter today is Jefferson McLean.

Jefferson: Hey, glad to be here.

Charles: Jefferson is our Director of Studies and Research. I am constantly bugging him with questions about our survey data, and he’s very helpful at giving me good insight in terms of employee survey results and the other data analysis we’re doing with clients.  Today we’ve got an interesting topic – we’ll be doing a series of podcasts along different leadership competencies that we measure on our 360 surveys. The one we’ll be talking about today is Influencing Others. So, Jefferson, I guess before we jump in, I want to set this up, talk to me about how we’re defining that and what we measure around that topic.

Defining Influence

Jefferson: Yeah, totally. So probably the easiest way that we could do this is go straight to the dictionary. Merriam Webster defines influence as the power to change or affect someone or something without directly forcing those changes to happen. So, one way that I really like to think about it is if you walk outside during the middle of the day, you can see the direct sunlight coming from the sun. But if you walk out in the middle of the night and it happens to be a full moon, you can see the indirect light from the sun that’s being reflected on the moon. That’s what we’re looking for with influences; that indirect effect that you’re having on someone or something to bring about some type of change.

Charles: Excellent. And how do we typically measure that? So, we measure that on our 360’s and we tend to have kind of an angle as it applies to leadership influence.

Jefferson: Yeah, exactly. So, we use four items, the first one being, “communicates in a way that inspires others to change attitudes or behaviors,” and that goes along with the definition that we just gave, as well as “makes well-reasoned, persuasive arguments.” That’s how articulate you are and your persuasion. The other two items that we use are “trying to control for things that you should not do” when you’re trying to influence and that is the next item, “avoids manipulation and coercion when engaging in conflict” or “gains support of others without relying on personal position or status.” One of the reasons why we don’t want to influence through manipulation, coercion, personal position, or status, or rely too heavily on your status is changes happen in the organization all the time and once that status has gone, then that influence or opportunity to influence is also gone.

 Charles: That’s a good point because the word influence has a lot of baggage associated with it because of those reasons.

Jefferson:  Exactly.

Charles: So, let’s talk about the importance of influence. Why does influencing others matter as a leader?

Jefferson: Okay, great question. There’s a lot of broad, general topics that we could go into, right? If you’re able to influence as a leader, you’re able to change the environment, hopefully in positive ways. As a leader, you often have ideas that you want to progress or maybe strategic decisions that need to go forward, but you’re not necessarily the one who’s going to be implementing those decisions. So, you really need to help influence those who will be implementing it. You can reduce obstacles through influence, and you can often get around office politics through it. But there’s a lot of this downstream effect of influence that I don’t believe we really think about a lot. The fact of the matter is you’re influencing people, whether it’s purposeful or not.  At DecisionWise we conducted a study where we took couple thousand managers from half a dozen organizations or so, and we looked at the relationship between the managers level of engagement or overall perceived happiness and job and their teams. We found that when managers were engaged, we found 87% more than expected number of fully engaged, direct reports. But when they’re disengaged, we found 75% more than the typical number of fully disengaged direct reports. So, there’s this relationship between the manager being engaged and involved and happy and positive and their subordinates..

Charles: ..kind of feed off of it.

Jefferson: Yeah, exactly. They feed off of it. But the real surprise that we found was when we took a look at the manager’s manager or a director. We found that when the director was fully engaged, that there were 49% more fully engaged people on the individual contributor team than we would expect.

Charles: So, if you skip a level down, they’re still influencing engagement.

Jefferson: Yeah. 49%, that’s almost half more than we would expect to find, so that’s pretty big. If that director is fully disengaged, then skip a level down, we find 40% more disengaged individual contributors.

Charles: Interesting. So, the level of excitement and passion you have towards your job even if you’re not actively trying to influence people still has an impact.

Jefferson: Yeah. So, it then becomes this idea that if you’re going to have influence, you might as well try to be purposeful about it. It might as well bring about some change or some good or some benefit to yourself, your team, and the organization in general so that people can feed off that.

Identifying Influencers Within an Organization

Charles: So, we’ve been conducting employee engagement surveys for 26 years now. Lately we’ve added some additional analysis, or a section to the survey to measure or try to capture the number or identify the number of influencers within an organization. We call it the organization network analysis. Do you want to explain how that works and some of the research that we’re finding there?

Jefferson: Yeah. So, the organizational network analysis or what I call ONA, what we’re really trying to do is go in and identify the hidden influencers in an organization. What I mean by that is in any organization, you have individuals who will automatically be influential, right, because of their position in the organization or their hierarchical status. But there’s an informal structure to the employees of, “Hey, who are you going to go to for information?” Or “who do you find is really motivational?” or “who helps you with change efforts?” And those are the individuals that we trying to identify. And what it becomes is at the end of a survey, we’ve got three spheres of influence that we look at, the first being an Expert. These are the individuals who usually are hubs of information, whether that is specialized information or more general information that’s really vital to you or your role or the organization. They might be really good at problem solving..

Charles: A lot of experience?

Jefferson: ..yeah,a lot of experience, perhaps they’ve been there for a long time  or perhaps they hold advanced degrees. So that expertise can come in multiple dimensions, but it’s who you go to really, when you need help. The second one is Change Agents, and those are individuals who aren’t necessarily in leadership positions, but who, you know, have political or social credit we’ll say, in the organization to be able to pull others along. So those might be individuals who you find, more often or not, people go to talk about others or to….

Charles: ..roll out initiatives sometimes are involved. I think in some of the committees or other kind of initiatives that are going on in an organization to roll out changes. Their influence is interesting because they tend to be a little bit more maybe creative or assertive in how they’re positioned, as opposed to an Expert, where less assertive people go to them, Change Agents kind of push more things.

Jefferson: Yeah. Almost the concept of a social butterfly, but with purpose. The last influencer that we take a look at or sphere of influence that we measure is Mentors, those who are role models, career development, similar to Experts, right? Well, I guess they’re more of a hybrid between Experts and Change Agents, right? Because they’ve got some expertise so that they can be a mentor. They might not necessarily go and seek out people to mentor, but they could, but it’s often individuals who are more advanced in their careers who have a little bit more life experience and who others feel comfortable and safe going to for help and advice.

Charles: Yeah. And this is interesting because as we’ve looked at this and I’ve, and I’ve done this with a few organizations and looked at the breakouts, people aren’t necessarily too surprised when they see the list, you know, cause we’re able to kind of  depending upon the number of mentions an individual gets as an Expert or Change Agent or so on, you can see kind of the hubs or how it kind of plays out in the organization. And we always say, be sensitive to the workload, the amount of projects these people are on because they can burn out pretty easily if you’re not careful in managing their environment. But when you’re thinking as a manager, look at these categories. Think of yourself as a manager, are you an expert that people go to? Do your people rely on you for help? Are you helping to drive change in the organization? And then are you really trying to be a mentor to them as well? In terms of career development, those are all kinds of ways you influence effectively in an organization.

Jefferson: One of the things to also think about is as you say, these individuals who are identified as key influencers in your organization experience burnout. Those feelings, that emotion, it’s contagious. Like we talked about earlier with managers being engaged and finding their direct reports being engaged. So it’s really crucial that if you are an influencer or that you’ve identified influencers in your organization to really take care of them And I think that management is often the place where we’re talking about overburdened overload, how do we manage all these different tasks and responsibilities? And then what’s coming to me and I want, I want, I want, I want and trying to make sure that your influence is always purposeful and positive towards what end goal you’re looking for.

Charles: I think it applies to the manager’s team as well, because you probably have experts or change agents or people on your team, and you might tend to give them more work and projects because you know, they can get it done and they have the expertise, but then again, they get overburdened, and workload increases burnout. So, you have to spread the load. You have to be sensitive to those people.

Jefferson: Yeah, definitely.

Best Practices for Influencers

Charles: All right. So, let’s change gears a bit. We wanted to set this up and define and talk about the different aspects. Now we want to get into what can you do as a manager to be better at being an influencer and exercise some good behaviors in this area. So, what kind of research do you have for us here?

Build Rapport within Relationships

Jefferson: Looking at an HBR article by Dr. Laker and Patel, who are professors from the Henley school of business, that’s in the United Kingdom, they have an August 2020 HBR article, where they talk about different types of influence and at the end, they give a really good summation of things that you can do as a manager. One of them is to build rapport with the people you want to influence. If we go back to those four items, right, that we use to measure influence in our 360 assessments, two of them are directly related to what type of relationship do you have? And you really want to make sure that that relationship before you start to influence, or before you start to try to sway someone to the left or to the right, you need to build that solid foundation of the relationship on trust. Spend lots of time asking them questions, really get to know them, make sure that they feel heard and listened to. You want to make sure that you strengthen those interpersonal connections. One question they suggest asking that can be really powerful, especially when you’re new to management, is what have your past managers done that you’d like me to do or not to do? Even just going through and finding out those individual preferences is going to automatically help someone else be like, “Oh, this person cares about me. They want me to succeed. They’re looking for ways to make my work experience better,” And that’s going to help you when you go and try to influence, whether it’s their day-to-day decision or to bring about a change.

Charles: Yeah. And this is important, talking to your manager. So, managing up, how do I have that indirect influence? But I think it also applies across departments like your peers that you work with. You know, a lot of times we don’t pay too much attention. We have trouble with collaboration between teams. So the more you can do to also say, “Hey, what can I do?”, you know, “What do you see me as doing in my role that can better assist you helps to build that trust and then allow you to then have greater influence in decisions?” and things like that.

Become an Active Listener

Jefferson: Yeah, I completely agree. And that goes really well into the next step that they bring or next suggestion, which is to become an active listener rather than a transmitter. I think it is often so easy, especially when we’re in leadership or a new collaboration effort to walk in and to go, “Okay, I’m going to listen at the beginning and then, okay, I’ve listened now. It’s time for that. Then dah, dah, dah, dah, we’re going to take care of all these things.” But what you really want to do is maybe put aside that bias and continually try to practice some active listening based off of consistent communication so that you can really understand on an ongoing basis, how are they doing? What’s going on? What’s the water temperature of the team or the department that we’re working with? And one of the crucial aspects of that active listening is you absolutely have to act on what you hear. Not just, “I, listen, I hear you. Okay. Thank you.” And then you go shut the door and you’re think, I’m going to do whatever I want.

Charles: Right? Right. Thanks but no thanks..

Demonstrate Commitment to Your Team

Jefferson:  Exactly. You need to take that advice, that input that they give and act on it and be clear on making sure that they understand: I heard you, I went and thought about it and these two or three steps are what I’m doing because of that conversation. The last one that we’re going to talk about is that they suggest to commit to your team. This is one that we find often in our employee experience data, right? Individuals want to make sure that they’re in organizations and they’re on teams where they know the team and the organization is on a pathway to success. If you, as an influencer, do not believe you’re on a pathway to success, then either you need to use that influence to get everyone on that pathway to success or perhaps abandon ship. But if you really want to be influential, you need to show that commitment to the team. You need to show that, “Hey, we’re going to get through this together. I’m here. I’m committed. I’m in here for the long run, not just passing ship in the night.” And one of the ways that you can really help is to share your vision of success. You know, here’s what we’re doing as a team. Here’s what we’re doing as a department. Here is our vision for success, but also here’s your specific role, right? And here’s what important part you can play in the success, and really use that opportunity to influence them, to see the big picture, see their role in it. And then let them go and fulfill that role in the way that they see best.

Charles: This is a tough one too, because sometimes managers are split. Like there’s a decision that’s made, they have to go with it. They might not agree with it. And then they have to deliver the bad news to their team and support management, right? So, they can’t just undermine and throw them under the bus and say, “Well, this is what the boss said, we have to do it.” And so, in a way, you’re trying to play both sides and you’re trying to do it sincerely. You have to deal with some integrity. Without just saying, “Hey, you know I believe in this”, or whatever. So, I think it’s important to be honest, but also show that, “Hey, this is the direction we have to go. Here’s how I think we can navigate it the best. Here’s how I’m trying to support you as a team. And here’s the pushback I’m giving to management as well.”

Jefferson: That’s an interesting situation that you bring up because it happens often and in the academic literature, we call that a necessary evil, something that a manager has to do, that’s going to benefit the company overall. Have to do layoffs, have to do a promotion, have to fire someone. But you’re causing harm to another individual. So, the great question for managers then is, “Well yeah. I want to use my influence, but hey, this is an emotionally really difficult message for me to deliver”. One recommendation that’s come out of the academic literature to deal with those necessary evils – when management hands you down, you have to enact this, there’s no other way to do it – is to, prior to going and talking to the individual to whom you have to deliver the news to, is to take a moment to be by yourself, calm down your own emotions, and think about it from a large perspective. What our research at DecisionWise has shown is if you can tie whatever that hard decision is back to the mission and goal of the organization, not in a “Hey we’re promoting so-and-so and not you because our vision is that they’re way more awesome”. Right? You don’t want to put it like that, but you do want to say, “What we’re looking for here at company XYZ are leaders and managers who are going to be able to fulfill these following competencies….”, dah, dah, dah, dah, and then tell them those competencies. And “we decided to go with someone else”, and then give them a roadmap of things that they can do, once again, going back to that commitment to your team here, things you can do to get over this slightly discomfortable, unfortunate situation. And then you’re using your influence in the moment. That’s really, I would say really impactful because those types of moments hopefully don’t happen every single day. You don’t want to be passing down those necessary evils all the time, but if you use your influence in key moments, the stickiness of it, it’s going to last for a long time.

Charles: Yeah. It builds trust. It ends up being a positive.

Jefferson: Exactly.

Charles: Yeah. So, it’s interesting. So, in all three of these, as we kind of summarize and say, well, what am I supposed to do? Well, it’s about relationships and building rapport, about being a more active listener, and then showing more commitment to your team. It differs in terms of how you influence up, down, or across the organization as a manager, so you need to apply these principles in different ways.

Jefferson: Yeah, definitely. Situation matters and context is everything when it comes to influencing.

Charles: Excellent. Well, Jefferson, this has been great. Anything else you want to add as we close?

Jefferson: You know, the only thing that I would add is that one of the key things I think, that you really want to be conscious of with influence is make sure that everything you do is purposeful. Once again, going back to that idea of if I’ve got this negative attitude or feeling, that’s just as contagious as the positive attitudes and feelings, so make sure you’re influencing purposefully on what you want to.

Charles:  Right. Where’s my mindset right now, before I try to act.

Jefferson: Exactly.

Charles: Good point. Great. Well, Jefferson, thank you very much. Everyone else, thank you for joining us. And we look forward to having you join us on a future podcast. Thanks everyone.

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