You may find it difficult to influence your teams at work. Individual team members may respond to your attempts at influencing with resistance, passivity, and in extreme cases, even defiance. This can leave leaders feeling frustrated and may also often compromise solid, business results. If you have been attempting to influence your teams by asserting your knowledge, your expertise, your positional authority or status in the organization this may have value, however, it may also be an insufficient approach. Adding self reflection as a leadership skill and reflective practice will be the key ingredient toward better influencing. Self reflection requires an inward focus toward factors that are within your control before leaning on the external factors of influence like authority and status.
Taking your focus off of external, less controllable factors and putting it on internal more controllable factors begins with a conscious choice. Begin by asking yourself what factors in yourself you can focus on to have a better impact on your influencing abilities. Some examples include focusing on your style of communicating with others, identifying behaviors in yourself that have been successful in the past, and identifying tensions in the body or the mind that have an impact on the way you perform. This first reflective practice of changing your focus in this way, will help you gain a better sense of control and have positive influence on your team.
Not everyone is influenced the same way. Knowing your team members’ personalities is a key to discovering how they best respond to your influence. Some may be motivated and influenced by a direct, no nonsense approach while others may respond better to simply having their voices heard. Personality assessment can happen formally through organization-wide assessments and training or more informally by getting to know each team member over coffee or at the water cooler. Discovering even a bit about your team members’ personalities will help you influence more effectively over the long-term.
We like to think we know ourselves well and some are better at this than others. An honest assessment of your own strengths and weaknesses is a difficult task and yet, a worthwhile one in leadership and influence. You can start by asking for feedback. Consider approaching trusted colleagues and coworkers about what they notice about you that moves you closer or further away from your influencing goals. You may be surprised and helped by what others see in your “blind spot(s)”. Identifying strengths and weaknesses allows you to do more of what is already effective and to learn other strategies to improve upon what is not. The result is a refreshingly new look at influencing better and developing your work relationships.
When asked, most of us believe that in the workplace, we operate and make decisions rationally, logically, and through an ordered process of analytical reasoning. When observed closely, however, we realize that a lot of how we behave, what we say and do, and the decisions we make have strong emotional components. When our emotions go unchecked our ability to influence others decreases dramatically. And yet, emotions aren’t going anywhere and when understood, can be useful allies in developing influential relationships. Beginning a process of emotional self awareness through checking in to see which people, places, and events stir up certain emotions is a good starting point for learning to utilize emotion for better influencing. The management of emotions follows awareness through the discipline of self reflective practices such as pausing and having an inward focus.
The atmosphere for employee engagement and thriving starts with your leadership, not necessarily with the organization as a whole. Focusing on what the organization is or is not doing to help team members respond to influence will result in disempowerment, frustration and burnout. Instead, create an atmosphere of motivation and influence where employees feel respected, have their voices heard, are engaged, believe that their professional development is being supported, and that their work-life balance matters. You will find your effort in these areas yielding much greater returns than focusing on factors outside of your control like budget, deadlines, and other often limited resources.
If you find yourself frustrated or ineffective with regard to influencing your team, you may also feel stuck in a cycle of repeating the same behavior with different emphasis and hoping for something to change. Become aware of your behavior through self reflection and then try on new behaviors that will break the cycle that you are in. Behavior change does not have to be arduous. You can choose one or two behaviors that you would like to practice (i.e. smile when entering a room, listen before speaking) and then observe the results with respect to your influencing goals.
Many organizations lean heavily on rewards, recognition and punishment as ways to influence behavior. While these factors may have some positive effects in the very short term, research shows repeatedly that there needs to be more attention placed to the emotional, social, and interpersonal atmosphere of an organization if we want to have effective influence. Round out salary raises, promotions and negative consequences of lateness with social events, asking employees for feedback and suggestions and following up on that feedback and those suggestions, and finding ways for team members to have their voices heard.
Leaders who influence well have a deep understanding that not everyone is influenced the same way. A little time on the front end getting to know each of your team members and how they feel motivated may save you loads of effort and struggle on the back end when you feel resistance from your attempts. Two ways to find out more about your team members are 1) Ask sincere questions 2) Observe what they do well.
More and more, sophisticated organizations are learning that hard business results are intimately connected to the softer skills of human relationships. Leaders who model soft skills of influence such as self reflection, emotional awareness, emotional self management, and taking time to understand others are finding their influence within and across their teams to be more effective. Modeling this approach to leading to others on your team is a positive influence in and of itself. These skills can be learned through one on one coaching, through books, podcasts and team training.
Feedback is a gift, and many of us are not trained in how to give it and more emphatically, how to receive it. Asking for specific feedback from your peers and direct reports can lead you to sharpen your skills in general and more specifically, become a more effective influencer. By creating an atmosphere where feedback is welcome, accepted and utilized you build trust within and across your teams. You will model an approach that, if done correctly, will leave others feeling more open to your influence and direction. In addition to building relationships with your team members, a hallmark of influence, you will also pick up useful information about yourself that you can address and work on as you develop your influencing skills as a leader.
Effectively influencing your team is less about know-how and more about know thyself. The process of reflection as a leadership skill can absolutely be learned with willingness and simple focus. Reflection and reflective practices take on several forms and strategies, however you only need to learn one or two to be effective. The main theme involves turning your focus inward to drive positive business results and the development of others.
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