3 Strategies To Earn The Right To Influence

Image Credit: Rodin's The Thinker by alexandria (Pixabay.com)

Image Credit: Rodin’s The Thinker by alexandria (Pixabay.com)

Everyone on your project team is a volunteer. They may leave or disengage at any time. Then your project fails.

That’s a scary prospect! Responding to that reality is the mission of project management professionals. In this article, I will share my notes and reflections on Bill Richardson’s excellent presentation at the 2015 PMI Global Congress on the topic of Earning The Right To Influence. I will also share a few resources to help you continue your skill development in this area.

Addressing The Charisma Myth

Before we go further, let’s address the charisma myth. We have all seen leaders and influencers who have that natural charm and ability to connect with people. Yet, there are often significant preparations behind the scenes. For example, Steve Jobs was known for rehearsing and organizing a venue in detail before delivering his presentations. Theodore Roosevelt’s ability to present at length was founded, in part, on his extensive reading and study of history, politics, military affairs and other topics.

The fundamental message is this – leaders prepare to influence. You can use these strategies and concepts to enhance your influence and reach project success faster.

1. The Personal Brand Strategy: Make A Promise Based On Your Brand

The value and importance of building a personal brand has never been more important. In fact, my friend Bobby Umar  runs an annual conference dedicated to the topic. In Richardson’s view, the promise you make with your brand is made up of several components including character, capability and commitment. In today’s article, let’s focus on the importance of character.

Character. In recent years, character has retaken centre stage in our culture after being neglected for a period of time. Much of the resurgence of interest in character can be attributed to the steady stream of scandals and misconduct we have in seen in business and political circles (e.g. the Enron scandal, misuse of expense accounts, and much more).

What character traits can you develop and commit to in order to become a more successful project manager? One large bank I’m familiar with encourages positive behavior by promoting the following actions: “Make it your problem” (i.e. personal responsibility), “Admit when you don’t have the answers (i.e. humility) and “Speak up and be candid” (i.e. avoid sweeping important matters under the rug).

2. Use the WAKE Principle To Support Your Team

We all  know that projects are designed to create unique results, products, services and change the world. However, it is easy to lose track of that vision when you are deep in the weeds of working through change requests, bug reports and meetings.

As a fan of the 5 am Miracle and the Miracle Morning, I love the power of early mornings (though I admit I have room to improve) to start the day on a positive note. Given that point, I was pleased to read about Richardson’s WAKE principle to help teams. It is a four part model to equip people to reach success.

Want to!

Start by showing that you value the person and the work they do. If you skip this step, your project team members may start to feel undervalued (and hold back their full engagement)

Able to!

Projects are full of new tasks and challenges. Given that situation, it makes sense to pause and ask your team members, “do you have the knowledge, skills and abilities to be successful?” If the answer is no, additional training can help. You can use my article 51 Training Resources For Project Managers to get started.

Know to!

Fuzzy expectations mean a high chance of failure and frustration. For the best results, define both general expectations (e.g. timely attendence at team meetings) and task expectations (e.g. quality levels required on deliverables).

Equipped to!

In order to achieve success, your staff need access to tools, resources and processes. In my experience, I have seen failure and near misses occur over and over again because someone did not have have an active user account for an important system or application. For the best results, ask your team members to TEST their applications.

The WAKE model is a good supplement to the How To Lead Virtual Teams article I wrote earlier this year.

3. Manage Your Psychology: Thinking Fast and Slow

The human mind is powerful. We have created computers, navigated the world and much more. Even more impressive, researchers have discovered various traps and systematic problems – collectively known as cognitive biases – that prevent us from achieving our goals. As project managers working in stressful environments with numerous deadlines, it pays to think about our thinking. According to Nobel Prize winner researcher Daniel Kahneman, we use two types of thinking: System 1 and System 2.

System 1 (the autopilot)

Imagine someone throws a baseball in your direction and you manage to catch it seconds later. That’s an example of System 1 thinking. It is fast and it keeps us safe from harm in many situations. We use system 1 thinking for the vast majority of situations we encounter each day including walking down the street and responding to threats. System 1 thinking also requires little effort or energy to use. However, research has found that system 1 is prone to errors. For example, system 1 thinking is poor at using data, statistics and numbers to assess risk (e.g. that a commercial flight is objectively safer than driving a car).

System 2 (the Thinker)

System 2 thinking is the slower, rational process we use to make big decisions. Unlike System 1, we have decide to use System 2 and it uses more energy. System 2 is much better at using numbers and data to consider a problem. System 2 thinking is also fantastic at creating thinking tools (e.g. How To Build A Checklist In 6 Steps). Unfortunately, anger and stress tend to suppress System 2 thinking.

Here are a few ways you can manage your psychology to increase your influence:

Manage your physical condition. As The Power of Full Engagement showed, lack of sleep, food, and water impair our ability to function well. If you are about to scream at someone, ask yourself whether your physical needs are neglected.

Revisit your goal. When problems and frustrations hit you in the face on a quiet Friday morning, scoring a quick victory seems like a good idea. A better approach is to remind yourself what you are trying to achieve. My favorite example of this principle is train travel and air travel. If the airline is having a problem that impacts me, I remind myself that my goal is to complete my travel rather than “venting.”

Further Reading On Influence

To continue your influence education, use these resources. In my studies, I have found that people tend to approach influence from two perspectives: marketing and leadership. Even if your job title does not include those dimensions, it pays to develop those skills now rather than attempt to develop them quickly.

Influence Through Verbal Commitments by Manager Tools. This podcast explains how the technique of building influence by asking for verbal commitments. The words you use and how you say them significantly impact your influence success.

Becoming a Person of Influence: How to Positively Impact the Lives of Others by John C. Maxwell and Jim Dornan. I have learned a great deal from Maxwell’s books and audio programs over the years. One of my greatest insights is that a job title power (e.g. “CEO”) is only part of the story of influence. This book shows how anyone can build their influence in various positive ways.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini. With over 900 Amazon reviews, this book is the widely respected as one of the best books on influence you can read. I have seen many marketing experts and copywriting professionals recommend this book to help them to sell. The actual purpose of the book was to help people understand how influence works (e.g. how sales professionals, fundraisers and authority figures influence the rest of us).

Thinking, Fast and Slow Paperback by Daniel Kahneman. This award winning book is one of the best and most useful books on psychology you could read. Even more impressive, the book has attracted close to 2,000 Amazon reviews. I will see that I found the book somewhat difficult to read. It is well worth the effort though!


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4 thoughts on “3 Strategies To Earn The Right To Influence

  1. Another great article Bruce and superb resources! One of the most rapid ways a project manager can gain influence comes from trust. Without trust, no amount of motivation, team engagement or charisma will get you to get everyone else on the team rowing your direction.

    The two really go hand-in-hand, but trust is the foundation of accomplishing work and the cornerstone of influence. Without it you’ll be unable to get anything done, even in solo projects, because no one will give you the time of day. In organizational environments, leaders need trust both in and from their followers to be effective. In business relationships, they sometimes need establish it quickly in order gain support on important, ad hoc project elements. Whatever the issue, a project manager without trust is only a PM in title.

    “Trust is almost always conditional, focused, qualified, and therefore limited.” Robert C. Solomon