Leading By Influence

The dictionary defines autonomy as “the right or condition of self-government.” It is one of the pillars of motivation, essential to a healthy work environment. Autonomy is the ability to make decisions and have a say in the way things are going, it doesn’t mean that you can do whatever you want because ultimately you are accountable to someone. A lot of times we think well, if I were in charge, or for the more ambitious, when I’m in charge I’ll have the ability to do things the way I want to do them. There is an idea that when we are in-charge we are completely autonomous, but there is a lot of misunderstanding about what it means to be autonomous and to have authority.

What do you think of when you hear the word authority? Dictionary defines it as “the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.” Having authority certainly helps with leadership but is not necessary to be effective or good at leading others. You don’t even have to be in a leadership role to be a leader. Even if you have no desire to have authority or be in a management role you can still be a leader.

The phrase, “respect the position even if you don’t respect the person” references positional authority. It has to do with the power of a certain title or position not the ability of the person in that position to lead. Influence, on the other hand, is the ability to inspire confidence in others. You don’t have to be in a position of authority to be influential. Influence is respecting the person even if they don’t have the position.

Leading by influence starts with you and leading yourself. If you don’t lead yourself well then none of the rest matters. When you start to develop the discipline of self leadership people begin to take notice. The other three work in combination once this process begins. Choosing to be positive, thinking critically, and being active all extend the self leadership beyond just our own lives and into the world around us to lead by influence.

Episode Breakdown

Self Leadership

“Everyone leads something, even if it’s just you”

If you aren’t leading yourself then you are subject to whatever emotional state you are in and that can be influenced by your circumstances or those around you. We’ve all had bad bosses or bad leaders, if you haven’t yet eventually, you’ll have one. Not only are they a good example of what not to do, but they can be a great opportunity for self leadership.

The four areas where you have control.

You control your actions and your attitude. Your boss may control the consequences of your actions but you can choose if those are worth it. You control whether you respond or react to situations. When you react to a situation you do so without control letting your emotions run you. Responding however is tempered and planned.

You control your desires and ambitions. Ambition for something better is what got a lot of us to where we are now. In leading yourself you need to take ownership of your own ambition and not wait on others to guide you toward the goals you want. Instead start working toward them now. You control the small choices you make each day. Self leadership is being disciplined in the little things, the day-to-day, the mundane aspects of what you do. It’s being on time, it’s following through with commitments, it’s taking a PluralSight course or reading a book. The small choices you make when no one else is looking impacts how you behave and are perceived by others.

Principles of Self Leadership

Model followership by showing others around you how to be a good follower. They will see how you respond to a bad boss or how you handle tough deadlines and start to see you as a leader. Moral authority is much more important than positional authority.

Drop your expectations about how things should be and focus on the reality of your situation as it is. Expectations can ruin your attitude and relationships. Focusing on how things should be and not seeing where they are only leads to complaining not influence and change.

Monitor your motives and behavior through constantly checking your own motives behind what you are doing or thinking. Avoid reacting to emotions but instead respond with planned out behavior. This goes beyond just public behaviors but monitoring your personal emotions and private behaviors because those will seep out.

Go all-in especially when you feel like giving up. Completely commit for a set time to show your own commitment. If no-one would be surprised by you finding a new job then you are not all-in. This is a behavior that people notice more than the others.

Make a plan. Be intentional about leading yourself, it won’t happen by accident. Start with where you currently are now then look to where you want to go. Map out what it will take to get you from here to there and start developing the discipline and personal accountability to get there.

Choosing Positivity

This is the crux of all the others. It is second because once you start leading yourself you can now choose to be positive which will make leading yourself and the other behaviors even easier. Joy vs Happiness – Happiness is based on the root word “hap” meaning circumstantial or what is “hap”pening now whereas joy is a choice to be positive even in bad situations.

What does it mean to Choose Positivity

Perspective is everything when it comes to leading through influence, not as much how other perceive you but how you perceive the world. This has less to do with the objective reality and more to do with your approach to that reality. You can see something as overwhelmingly difficult or as a fun challenge. Broaden your view to see the world with a panoptic lens. The more of the big picture you are able to see the better you are able to understand your role in the whole process. When you know what the company is trying to do or what your customers are trying to do then you are better able to build and create solutions for them. This also puts your own world into perspective when you see how it fits into the bigger picture.

How you see the future influences how you will lead. If you have an outlook of despair it will consume you with your current situation so that you can’t break free and move forward. Find what motivates you so that you can maintain a drive and passion that will influence others.

Positivity is a character trait that can be developed. Character, however, is developed through difficult decisions and difficult times. A forward-thinking person can push through anything that gets in the way of their goals. As a leader it’s easy to buy into something when you’ve been able to have a say in it, however it is difficult to be positive when you haven’t. Positivity is attractive, being positive in these types of situations attracts people to follow your leadership.

Traits of a Positive Leader

There is energy in your attitude. A consistent, day-in and day-out positive attitude even in the difficult times will change the team’s dynamic. Just like a bad attitude will bring a team down, a positive one will lift the team up. People notice when you are the one lifting or lowering. Positive leaders remain humble toward those in authority. As you start to see and leverage your influence it’s crucial to stay humble to those who actually do have the authority. People are looking to you for guidance and if you let yourself get arrogant they will lose the respect that built your influence.

The panoptic view changes your perspective so that you build unity with your coworkers. Not just the coworkers on your team but across departments. The panoptic leader will build unity with operations, or even with the sales and marketing team. When the people around you most see how you are able to interact with the people who frustrate them they will look to you for guidance.

Critical Thinking

Positivity will go a long way but alone will not win the influence of your peers and set you apart as a leader. Positivity alone can be dangerous if not combined with the realism that comes from critical thinking. This skill balances the “rainbow puking unicorn” of over positivity with a healthy dose of reality.

Critical Thinking Defined

Critical thinking is a skill that can be developed. It sits in the balance between overly positive acceptance of everything and overly cynical, bitter frustration. Developing this skill will help you to navigate the difficult times when positivity alone will not cut it. Critical thinkers are on the look out for ways to improve themselves, their team, their company, and others around them. Leaders ask questions about their environment, not just the task at hand but also the people with whom they will be working.

Critical thinkers notice things others do not see. Being observant is a key to critical thinking as a leader as it allows for better understanding of cause-effect relationships. Critical thinkers connect the dots when others don’t see a pattern. They are able to identify the connection between feelings and behaviors in those around them both to see the effects of the feels but also to see the behaviors affecting the feelings.

Skills to Develop Critical Thinking

Think like an owner instead of an employee. Owners care more about what they are doing because their livlihood depends on it. When you are working on a project take ownership and treat it like you own the company. It’s a subtle shift in thinking that has a huge impact on your critical thinking.

Schedule down time instead of stacking meetings. It may seem like an efficient, good idea to get all the meetings out of the way, this doesn’t allow time for one meeting to process before the next one starts. The biggest enemy of critical thinking is an overcrowded schedule.

Think critically instead of being critical. When you start to think critically it’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming critical, this is why choosing to stay positive is before this in the order of leading by influence. Critical leaders don’t want to see others succeed because it doesn’t make them look good, whereas critical thinking leaders want to see others succeed because they know when others do well it reflects on everyone.

Help out instead of evaluating others on their performance. As you start to think more critically you’ll make observations and if not careful may come across as judging or giving others a grade. When you see an issue present a solution along with the problem. It may not be a good solution but it will move the focus from your raising an issue to finding a solution.

Remove emotionality from your conversations. If you are not able to discuss a topic without becoming emotional then you are not ready to have the conversation.

Avoiding Passivity

Owners have a sense of control in the work they do. When we don’t have authority we can feel a lack of control over our work, future plans, and even lives. This lack of control makes it easy to fall into the passivity of subordination where we rely on others to tell us when, what, and how to act. Lack of control causes us to be reactive which perpetuates passivity, which in turn causes us to feel stuck as if we have no control. It’s a vicious cycle.

Understanding Passivity

Lack of control leads to passivity of action or passivity of subordination. When you don’t feel in charge it’s easy and common to only do what is necessary to get by instead of stepping up and looking for ways to take responsibility. Passivity comes from a fear of failure and lack of risk taking. When you are always waiting to be told what to do then you never learn to take risks or how to handle failure. Leaders need to know how and when to take risks and they only learn that by doing it.

A season of waiting doesn’t mean a season of passivity. Just because you may not be in a leadership role or have responsibility now doesn’t mean that you should be passive. If you’re waiting to be given responsibility, you’ll never receive it because you have not shown that you can handle the responsibility. You need to take it on yourself before you are given the responsibility.

Steps to Become Active

Choose something to be yours. Find problems no-one wants to solve and make them your own. You will see things that leads and managers don’t because you are in the weeds day to day. Find something that needs to change and take ownership of it. Look for creative ideas that others are not doing or something that you can do to improve the process. How can you improve the process or the team.

Take time to plan out your ideas. Give yourself time in your schedule for planning and creativity. The best planned idea, even if it’s not the best idea, wins the meeting. If you see a problem come up with a solution before presenting the problem. Respond to what your lead or manager views as important. To resist passivity look for what your leaders want and be able to anticipate their needs.

Tricks of the Trade

Take note of how your coworkers react in certain situations, in regard to certain topics, or when in certain states. Think about the best reason they would have for that reaction, as well as the worst reason. Take note of it somewhere safe, not for the purposes of blackmail or anything of the sort, but so that you can react in a better way later on. This will eventually become second nature to you and you won’t have to write it down at all, but if you haven’t developed this habit, it’s important to do so. Not only can it prevent mistakes, but it helps limit unpredictability and the fear thereof.

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