I Can’t to I Can – 3 Actions to take control of Your career

I’ve been working with a number of women clients who’ve achieved considerable success in their careers. Most want to take control of their career. Yet, these women are still thinking and behaving with a mindset similar to the one I had in the 90’s and early 2000’s.

It’s the “I can’t” attitude.

Let me explain.

Prospects for women, especially in business and the workplace are still far from being on par with men. Yes we’ve made significant gains in the past 100 years. But it hasn’t been a consistent upward trajectory. It’s been more like moments of truth along the way.

Arguably the most impactful “moment” occurred in the late 60’s early 70’s highlighted by 50,000 women marching in New York City demanding legal abortion, universal childcare, and equal pay. While these demands haven’t been met in most parts of the Western World, awareness and tireless activism by many has resulted in greater parity. But not full equality.

We’re nearing the 2020’s and once again we’re in a “moment”. #MeToo has risen to directly take on sexual harassment in the workplace. This is busting open the glass ceiling for a better view of women in power, or rather of not enough women in power, and the slippery path it takes to get there.

I don’t subscribe to the “us versus them” approach to change. Instead, the time has come for women to exercise our rights and ambitions.

What if we shift our narrative from I can’t to I can? We can start by individually doing 3 simple actions relating to the most common complaints or mindsets I hear from clients:

  1. Let go of “if I just work harder” as your measure for success

  2. Create your tribe

  3. Ask for what you want

As a leader in a large organization I took great pride in knowing I was a high producer. When stress kicked in I latched on to the idea that if I just worked harder I would be more successful and more likely to get promoted?

I was wrong. Working that hard eventually wore me down. Long hours aren’t the elixir for success and happiness. Buying into the “if I just work harder” is counter productive.

In Hive’s recent State of the Workplace Report, they note that women produce 10% more work than men. What’s more, they’re given 55% of all work, compared to 45% assigned to men.

The real question is, “working harder at what?” How meaningful is that additional work? When assigned a task, women ought to consider whether the task is promotable or non-promotable (beneficial to the organization, but doesn’t contribute to career advancement). If there’s a pattern of being asked to take on non-promotable tasks, it’s time to say no and rethink your measure of success.

The second shift comes by consciously surrounding yourself with and holding up other women leaders. Whether they’re in your own company or industry, so much can be gained from sharing ideas, talking through challenges and celebrating successes.

I’ve heard clients complain they simply don’t have access to critical business information – the kind shared on the golf course. Little desire or time to spend on male preferred social activities results in less opportunities to build relationships that lead to inside information and connections that can give them an edge.

There’s lots of ways to build your tribe. Start by hosting a breakfast or lunch with the intention of inviting women to support women. Organizations like Lean In offer local circle groups where women talk openly about their ambitions and encourage each other to take on new challenges. Join an established network like WXN or industry-focused networks like WNET or WIA.

Finally, and perhaps the most important shift you can make is to ASK. This sounds really simple. But according to several studies, women are less likely to negotiate their salary and benefits.

Knowing it’s your responsibility to understand what you can ask for, and asserting yourself is key to negotiation.

Companies expect you’ll negotiate your salary and benefits. Depending on your position and industry, here are some additional benefits to ask for:

  • Vacation time
  • Health benefits and wellness program
  • Flexibility in work schedule and location
  • Tuition reimbursement and professional dues
  • Conference attendance at the organization’s expense
  • Stock options
  • Your job title
  • Your reporting relationships
  • One-time signing bonus
  • An executive coach to support on-boarding

The more you’re prepared to negotiate, the more likely you’ll be confident in asking for what you believe you’re worth when the time comes. Think of it this way, you’ll be doing the right thing for you and creating a better culture for all women.

Let’s use the current “moment” to confidently step forward and take action to match what we believe, need, want and deserve. The moment of “we can” is here.

 

 

Why 3 Key Shifts Need Hidden Powers

I recently had the privilege of hosting Day 1of the Women’s Executive Network’s 2018 Wisdom Mentoring Program. Given carte blanche to develop a full leadership day, my intention was to provoke the attendees to realize how their leadership and hidden powers are critical in light of 3 massive and key shifts changing our world.

The attendees were women holding senior or executive positions in primarily male-dominated industries. Think oil and gas, manufacturing and international consulting firms.

These smart and outspoken leaders patiently indulged me in painting the picture of what’s underpinning the confluence of change happening now and expected to accelerate over the next 2-5 years. The impact will be not only on our work, but also on businesses’ ability to adapt and, how we as a society choose to respond.

I’m talking about Industry 4.0, the inter-generational workplace and #TimesUp.

If you don’t know much or even heard about these 3 key shifts, it’s time to get on board. Industry 4.0 alone will change the world in ways we can’t even imagine. Think big data, artificial intelligence or self-driving cars. It’s the bridging of physical industrial assets and digital technologies in so-called cyber-physical systems. It’s already here; humans just aren’t ready for it.

We’ve been talking about the inter-generational workplace for over ten years. Now we have Generation Zs filling positions. Millennials expect flexibility, diversity and ethical business practices. Generation Z expects the same and more: mainly, a self-actualized workplace culture. The Gen Z employee wants regular feedback, access to all levels of the company and to feel personally valued. This means power not situated top/down; rather, power that flows down, up and across.

#TimesUp is the third significant phenomenon. For centuries women have been relegated to subservient positions. It’s taken women of the Hollywood machine to break the silence of behavior both men and women have always known exists. #TimesUp is the recognition that women will not tolerate inequality and harassment in any industry. This will have huge impacts on ways we communicate and who sits in the C-Suite offices.

With these key shifts on the table, I proposed it’s time for women leaders, to bring out their “hidden powers”.

I’m talking about the characteristics we have in spades but don’t necessarily bring to our work. The women attendees dug in and came up with lists of values, behaviors and ways of being they don’t show up with at work.

I was met with complaints of, “my male colleagues speak over me in meetings”, “I’m called aggressive if I stand up for myself”, “it’s so hard being the only female at the board table”.

I don’t doubt the challenges these women face. What I’m suggesting is to change how we, as women, show up. We may work in male defined structures, but if we consider the 3 key shifts in front of us, we have compelling reasons to change the book on leadership.

We’re moving into a time of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). Businesses will embrace agility, speed of change will be the norm and innovation and failure will be paramount. Employees will need to feel they matter and their work has meaning.

Four themes emerged through the hidden powers discussion:

  • Empathy
  • Inclusion
  • Vulnerability
  • Resilience

Now, I’m not suggesting men don’t have these same qualities – they do!

In a recent HBR article, authors Tinsley and Ely pinpoint that it’s actually organizational structures, company practices, and patterns of interaction that position men and women differently; this creates systematically different experiences for them.

We’ve created narratives over the years that reinforce gender stereotypes; the real explanation for any sex differences that exist in the workplace is context.

With 3 massive shifts in our midst, it’s time to let go of ancient directive management behaviors and bureaucratic structures where few hold the power. It’s critical to replace them with values and behaviors that support, not disenfranchise, people.

Since the 1990’s Daniel Goleman and others have been proselytizing Emotional Intelligence. That we need leaders with self-awareness, empathy and self-regulation has taken hold, and yet, it’s not enough.

For women in leadership positions, stepping up and promoting their hidden powers will generate learning for both genders. This can influence a shift in context, thinking and behavior from gender bias and stereotyping to one of inclusion and equality.

As we embark on the agile corporate landscape, we’ll need an antidote to the lightening speed, innovate/fail/adapt/change processes of cross-functional teams. We’ll need teams supported by senior leaders who are not only empathetic, but vulnerable, support failures and successes, understand and support inclusivity and create climates of resilience.

We may be heading into a future of artificial intelligence and robots, but as the women of the Wisdom Mentoring Program discovered, it’ll take very human actions and qualities to support people into this new era.

What’s Your Self-Development Plan?

If you’re thinking I’m asking about your personal self-development plan, you’d be only half right. So often we segregate our lives into personal and professional. But I’m in disagreement with this view.

We aren’t made up of compartments – we live whole lives. That means, when we think about goals and aspirations regarding our career, family, health and finances we need to look at our own big life picture.

Think of your life as a spider’s web. All parts are held in balance with each other, albeit sometimes tenuous. Whatever happens in one aspect of our life has impact on others.

As an executive leadership coach, I work with clients wanting to develop their professional competencies. In order to do that, it’s critical that we also look at how other aspects of their lives intersect with their learning.

Having a self-development plan is critical to your success. Being complacent and letting life happen is fine but won’t ensure you’re learning, reflecting and moving forward with intention.

At times your plan’s emphasis will be on health and other times career. But keeping the big picture in mind will help you achieve your goals. For example, if you’re planning to start a family, how will you realistically continue to meet your career objectives? Or if work is taking over your life, how is that supporting your health?

Consider approaching your self-development plan with these questions:

  1. What are the priorities in your life right now? This can change from time to time and that’s okay. Base your plan on what’s important to you now.
  2. What is your Why? How might you focus on what your purpose is to help build your self-development plan?
  3. What aspect of your life has room to give in order to put more emphasis into other parts of your life?
  4. What is the learning you want to put in your plan and how does that relate to the various aspects of your life? (Hint: it should support more than one goal)
  5. What do you want to have achieved in 2, 5 and 10 years? (Knowing of course that life changes along the way)
  6. What if you were to make this plan about you and what you want? As opposed to what you think others want of you? How will that affect your plan?
  7. What will you need to ensure you’re accountable in following your plan?

There are multitudes of templates, tools and approaches you can use to support your plan. MindTools offers some great tools for free. The important thing is that you set it up to work for you.

The key to a successful plan and the ability to see it through rests with its simplicity and detail.

That’s right. The challenge is to not make it more than you can possibly achieve. But it does require putting in both where you want to get to and how you are going to do it. The “how” requires specific activities that will help to move you forward.

As you create these activities look for the links and impacts to each part of your life. If furthering your education will take up the majority of your time, how will that impact your family life? How might you reorganize your time to meet your family commitments? Are there opportunities to combine your goals or use the space in between work or education to do healthy activities?

Finally, keep it simple by chunking your goals into time frames. Life shifts and being able to keep to your goals and activities is easier if you put them in 1-3 month periods.

Creating your self-development plan is your responsibility. Make it work for you. The results will follow!

What to do When Trust Slips Away

In one moment, I knew I’d eroded her trust in me. Recently I had one of those days where I should’ve just stayed at home. The kind of day where I felt overwhelmed caring for family members and too many deliverables in the hopper. Instead of paying attention, I ventured out and met a friend and colleague. She shared a decision and plans she’s making. My stress meter kicked in and I made unsupportive comments. I could feel the trust slip away.

We’ve all done it. No excuses.

It’s stressful days like this that the option of hiding under the covers isn’t possible. The question becomes, what could I have done better? And, what have I learned from this.

Stress and Trust are two very different concepts. And yet, put together the result can be devastating.

Let’s talk first about stress. We all have our own triggers and reactions to it. Yet we can learn to understand what it means for us, and the best way to go about our day without impacting others.

For me it’s spreading myself too thin, especially in caring for others. What is your trigger? Not enough sleep? Taking on too much?

Understanding our reaction to stress is equally important. I don’t focus and am distracted. This means I don’t practice active listening. I let my own narrative rule my head instead of paying attention to what others are saying and experiencing. And like my scenario above, I can blurt out instead of filtering my reaction.

How do you react when you’re stressed?

Unlike stress, trust is a delicate thing. Once we have it, we must tenderly nurture its presence. Philosophers have hotly debated the meaning of trust, but tend to agree that trust is a kind of reliance: to trust someone is to rely on them in a certain kind of way. We create trusting relationships that lean on the social construct of expectation.

My friend expected me to support her decision and be excited about her prospects. Her expectation represents her trust in me.

Trust is earned. But trust can just as easily slip away –  often when we’re overwhelmed. This intersection of trust and stress requires that we be deeply in tune to what another expects of us and to show up wholeheartedly to maintain their trust.

And when we don’t? There is only one viable path forward.

I contacted my friend and shared how sorry I was for my reaction. There were no excuses. I acknowledged her reaction in the moment. I shared how sorry I was to be insensitive and to not provide the reaction she was expecting.

My friend responded with her truth and the willingness to talk about how we move forward as friends and colleagues. I am deeply grateful.

What have I learned? Just how delicate trust is. I’m facing my own imperfection in the face of stress. I’m committed to noticing when I’m overwhelmed and to act/react with integrity. And I’m learning that letting trust slip away is never an option.

How do you break the glass ceiling?

Early in my career, as women’s wear manager for a fashion importing company, the owner of the company told me he was sure I’d make a great mother and not want to return to work when my baby arrived. I was stunned and speechless. In that moment I felt the power to make my own decision taken from me. I didn’t realize  I’d touched the glass ceiling. 

I tell this story because it’s one of many I hear from women highlighting how the glass ceiling stays so tightly in place.

The recent spate in the media of women revealing their mistreatment by men in power is another example (#timesup). Yes we’re seeing this primarily in Hollywood and the arts, but make no mistake; it exists in corporate boardrooms across multiple industries.

The glass ceiling, a term coined by Marilyn Loden (author and feminine leadership expert) in 1978, is situated within the historical domain of male-designed and built structures. It’s as abstract as the idea that women have traditionally subscribed: to think and behave as men in order to reach upper corporate echelons.

So how does one shatter the glass ceiling?

It’s a great question with no easy, straightforward answer.

I’ll start by suggesting you think of the glass ceiling as mirrored. Of course, when you look up you see your own reflection. And that’s the point. Before you can shatter that ceiling you have to understand yourself and how you may be contributing to your own hold-back.

By no means am I suggesting we’re responsible for this type of career limitation. Rather, I believe we have influence over both how we respond to systemic traditional practices and how we actively shift those outdated rules.

Start by asking yourself these important questions:

  • Are you aware of how you show up to others?
  • What meaning do others see in your actions?
  • Does your behavior represent your values and ethical stance?
  • Are you deeply aware that you always have a choice?
  • Are you decisive or do you seek to please?
  • Do you go it alone or do you actively collaborate and develop support networks?
  • Do you continuously work on your leadership practice? Or do you find yourself most often in a reactive state?

Now let’s go deeper by testing how we may be contributing or not contributing to the glass ceiling phenomenon:

  • Are you supporting other women – peers and subordinates? Or are you competing with them?
  • Are you accepting the status quo? Or are you curious to develop or promote women-centric approaches within your current professional culture?
  • If you’re accepting the status quo, what’s holding you back from drawing on your courage?
  • Are you clear on how you use your power professionally? Is it attached to your ego?
  • Do you ask the right questions? The kind of questions that create open dialogue without being offensive or defensive?
  • Do you respectfully challenge the unwritten rules?

And, most important…

  • Do you ask for what you need?

Answering these questions can reveal how you may be holding yourself back. Knowing this can give you a clear view of cracks in the ceiling.

It’s the cracks you’ll be looking for – the opportunities to slip through. The ones that welcome you as the strong authentic feminine leader you are. It takes courage. And it means taking responsibility to be that woman who doesn’t compromise to fit in. It means taking responsibility to define and embody new cultural rules that in turn create more cracks in the glass.

As women, we’ve come to know that change does not happen quickly. It happens because we make a conscious effort to change the course. I first heard the term “glass ceiling” almost 40 years ago. While it still exists, I believe the tiny shards of glass can be heard falling on the ground.

 

How to Change Careers Gracefully

You’ve finally decided to change your career. It takes all your energy to stay focused until you leave your current position.

While you’re excited with the prospect of moving forward, there’s a good chance you’re also feeling anxious, and a little bad to be leaving (think loyalty) – unless the decision to move on wasn’t yours.

Either way, taking your leave gracefully is paramount. Why? – For many reasons.

Making a clean break with as little emotional baggage as possible is top of the list.

Leaving with the lingering feeling you’ve angered or frustrated a co-worker or employer never feels good. You’re going to need as much positive and focused energy to be successful in your new career.

Whether you’re leaving of your own volition or not, your self-respect deserves to stay intact. Either way, reflecting on what you gave to the position and company will shed light on the value you’ve brought to the company. It’ll also give you the chance to understand what’s best left behind and what’s most important to take with you (hint: a negative outlook should be left and confidence should go with you).

Trust is the second (and as important) reason to be graceful. Your current employer relied on you to bring your professional skills and effort to the company. A graceful exit is your final commitment.

How exactly do you change careers gracefully? The following do’s and don’ts list seems so obvious! Unfortunately, too few career changers get this right:

  • Prepare a story to explain your career change. Making your leave about you and your future prevents others from creating assumptions.
  • Give the company your all – no “checking out” in the months preceding your departure. Your current employer is paying you to give 100% so keep your end of the bargain.
  • Ask for a reference letter from your supervisor at least a week before you leave the company.
  • Don’t commit to staying in touch if you have no plans to follow through. While it’s true that once we leave a company we may be quickly forgotten, it’s still a commitment you’ll be expected to live up to.
  • Be thoughtful in your exit interview with your supervisor or HR representative. Giving constructive feedback on the work and company culture is far more productive and gracious than giving negative comments on individuals.
  • Leave with your work handed off to your successor or team and your desk/office tidy.
  • Don’t take any documents or company owned materials.
  • No badmouthing your employer or other staff during and after your exit. Period.
  • Thank those who’ve most supported you in your current career – managers, colleagues or direct reports.
  • Wait until you’ve left your job to update your LinkedIn and other social media profiles.

A graceful leave shows others you live by your values. You’ll be able to close this chapter feeling confident, inspired and ready to start anew.

Next stop. Check out Charlotte Seager’s great post, 6 Tips on How to Make a Successful Career Change.

In the meantime, gracefully exiting from where you are now will likely pay off in spades as you embark on your new career.

 

When your why shifts

Lately I’ve had a spate of clients who struggle with understanding why their current position isn’t satisfying them anymore. They know something isn’t right but are caught in the “can’t see the forest for the trees”. They may even know something needs to change but through fear, stress or loyalty, they are stuck.

I know the feeling – I’ve been there. I never aspired to work in the public sector, but there I found myself. We had two young children and my husband starting his own business. Pension, benefits and a regular paycheck were my WHY.

It worked brilliantly for a long time – until it didn’t. This didn’t happen overnight. As my children got older I started to question my values and aspirations. My values weren’t lining up with the company’s culture.

In retrospect I can see that my original WHY was no longer working for me. But at the time I was caught up with the stress, the loyalty and no idea for my future.

My story isn’t unique. What I’ve learned is that as we move through life, our context changes and for many of us, we don’t recognize the need to change with it. Simply put, as we change, so too might our WHY.

Let’s take a closer look at what your WHY really means.

Basically your WHY is your motivation. It’s your purpose. For many of us it can be strongly influenced by our external context at a point in time.

I researched articles and studies on how motivation (your WHY) impacts your work and job choices. I’m intrigued by the work of Lisa A. Mainiero and Sherry E. Sullivan, whose research focused on a five-year study examining women and men’s career patterns. Their term Kaleidoscope Career describes:

“…a career created on your own terms, defined not by a corporation but by your own values, life choices, and parameters. Like a kaleidoscope, your career is dynamic and in motion; as your life changes, you can alter your career to adjust to these changes.”

Their work found that a complex interplay among issues of authenticity, balance, and challenge are behind why we shift careers through our life course. It’s about taking stock of career decisions and making changes to meet:

1. An individual’s needs for challenge, career advancement, and self-worth juxtaposed against
2. A family’s need for balance, relationships, and caregiving, intersected by
the person’s need to say,
3. “What about me?” “How can I be authentic, true to myself and make genuine decisions for myself in my life?”

While Mainiero and Sullivan found subtle differences between how men and women approached their career shifts, ultimately it’s the shifting context of their lives that impacts their need to change course.

So what does this mean for your career? And even more important – what does it mean for YOU?

If you’re like many of my clients who come to me disenchanted with their current work, it’s time to assess what’s beneath this feeling. It takes a bit of inner work and reflection, coupled with honestly assessing your current life context.

Here are steps to help you discover what exactly is going on and how to move forward:

1. Get clear on how you’re feeling and behaving – are you irritable, bored, stuck or blaming your discomfort on your workplace? These are key signs something’s up.
2. Make a list of your top 10 values. Ask yourself if these align with your work and your workplace. A strong misalignment is a sure sign it’s time to move on.
3. Reflect back on why you started on this career or took your current position. What were your reasons?
4. Consider what’s different in your current life stage and context?

With this data, you can look at your situation from the outside in. Has your original motivation for career or job choice become stale? Is your passion to excel and deliver still ignited?

Next is the critical question – what exactly is your WHY now?

If it’s the same reason it’s always been, then great. This may mean it’s time to shift companies or reach forward to a new level.

But if your WHY has shifted, it’s time to make a plan toward aligning your WHY with a career change. I can’t tell you what that would be. It’s yours to discover. What I can do is suggest next steps.

Google has pages of blogs, how-to’s and articles on mid career changes. I’d highly recommend working with a career coach. They have tools and roadmaps to help you uncover potential opportunities and plan next steps. Talk with family to understand how this will impact your status quo (i.e. financial, location, time etc.) will help solidify your plan.

We’ve all heard the saying, “you only live once”. But that one life shifts and changes over time. What worked well in our twenties and thirties won’t necessarily fulfill us in our late forties and fifties. Being aware of your WHY and assessing that against your current reality means taking responsibility for you, your career and your future. If this article describes you, it’s time to discover your next chapter!

This I do know for sure.

Exactly Why Self-Awareness is Leadership’s Cornerstone

The Internet is rife with advice on how to be self-aware. I’m not here to give you the top 10 ways of how to be self-aware. What I will do is help you understand why it’s the foundation of successful leadership.

Think of this blog as a “back to basics”. If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know how often I refer to developing your self-awareness as the most important thing you can ever do for yourself.

Self-awareness means understanding yourself, as objectively as possible, and leveraging it to create a life that aligns with your natural inclinations – not challenge them.

Back in 1972, Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund published their landmark theory of self-awareness. They determined a person can focus both on themselves and their surroundings at any given time; they can think about what they’re thinking, doing, and experiencing.

Recent self-awareness research reveals that people use their external surroundings as a comparison of self to external standards.

Recent studies take this a step further in suggesting self-concept isn’t static knowledge garnered once, but rather it’s fluid, complex, and contextual.

In doing research for a training program I’m developing for new and mid -level managers, I combed my shelf of leadership books. While they’re written by the top leadership gurus, it’s Steven Covey who talks about the importance of cultivating self-awareness. He refers to it as the space between stimulus and response – the space where you can pause and make a choice. Covey believes cultivating self-awareness is one of the highest leverage activities we can engage in.

So what does all this mean for leadership? Likely more than you think.

Quite simply, the greater our quest for self-understanding the more we can predict, choose and be flexible in our behaviors and responses.

Let’s say you’re finding yourself overwhelmed and, as a result, short on patience. You know this is a pattern of response when your stress meter rises. Because you know this, you can make choices to manage your behavior. You may decide to take several deep breaths when you feel yourself tensing up. You may choose to take a short walk, or close your office door with a DO NOT DISTURB. This is where your positive self-talk can be critical in pulling you off the ledge of impatience.

Your own self-awareness is also a way of understanding how you show up to others. A client of mine was feeling distressed with her new directive-style boss. This style was in conflict with my client’s collaborative and affiliative approach. I suggested that both my client and her boss have blind spots on how others see them. This lack of self-awareness was contributing to the tension between them.

This knowledge produced an “aha” moment for my client. She admitted greater compassion for her boss and humility for herself. The way was paved for a productive dialogue between them.

As leaders in large organizations, my client’s example is common. In the quest to drive results, make a difference and meet incredible demands on time, leaders tend not to spend enough effort on self-reflection.

The more we reflect, the greater our awareness and the greater our ability to show up authentically and respectfully. It opens the space for us to pause and make positive choices on how we’ll show up. This, in turn, engenders trust with those around us.

By now you likely realize how impassioned I am about self-awareness. It truly is the cornerstone of authentic and effective leadership.

I said I wouldn’t give you advice on how to develop your own awareness. I will offer this. There are simple ways to set you on your journey including daily meditation, mindfulness, doing a psychometric assessment or coaching sessions that are scientifically proven to facilitate increases in self-awareness.

Are you taking the time to invest in yourself?

Are you the “I” in influencer?

Influencer is one of those words that we often hear bandied about these days. “She’s a Huff Post influencer.” Or “In fashion circles, he’s THE influencer.” These are the people who capture attention and move ideas across broader audiences.

But there’s another type of influencer: one that requires critical skills for anyone aiming to provide executive level value or get ahead in the workplace.  This influencer has a keen sense of business acumen, excellent communication skills and is known as “the go-to person” for pushing innovation.

When I was a senior leader in a large organization, the HR Director told me I had a lot of power in the organization. I didn’t understand what she meant at first. I watched myself over the next few weeks and realized I have the gift of influence.

In my coaching practice, the idea of being able to sway or inspire others is a recurring theme. With flatter organizations and dotted-line authority for other employees, having the ability to engage and lead others with influence may be the only way to get the project or work done effectively.

I have an idea of what being an influencer means, but I wanted to find out what the “experts” say makes an effective influencer. For me it’s intuitive; so how can I coach others in developing this skill?

Naturally I started with Dale Carnegie’s seminal How to Win Friends and Influence People, arguably the most popular self-help book ever published! Along with common communication behaviors such as listening and engaging with honey rather than sour lemons, here’s a couple of Carnegie’s gems:

  • Let the other person do a great deal of the talking
  • Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers
  • Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view
  • Talk in terms of the other person’s interest
  • Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely

Suzanne Bates, author of numerous books on leadership, believes that to influence, a leader must have “executive presence” or gravitas. She defines executive presence as having three distinct dimensions – Style, Substance, and Character. She further explains that influence is who you are and how others perceive you.

Let’s take that one step further. The art of influence is about the interplay between two concepts:

1. There’s an “I” in influencer. And, of course the degree to which you step up to your “I” depends on how self aware you are and your ability to see how others see you.

2. An idea or solution is just that. Nothing more. Unless you embed and describe it within a context. It’s conveying the “WHY” behind the idea. That ‘s when people pay attention.

Let’s break these two concepts down even more.

The first concept is about you’re internal self and how it manifests in your style and behavior. Your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. For example, if you’re someone who needs to be right, chances are your ability to influence is low. If your motivation is to support others in their success, your influence quotient will be higher. It’s about engaging in active listening, sharing information openly and being curious. Not to mention understanding your potential impacts on others from their point of view. Think of this concept as the “HOW” you persuade or influence.

Understanding the core of the issue and why it’s important to the business is the second concept. This is conveying why a + b will = c. It’s having business acumen to understand the bigger picture, its inherent complexities and, in turn, helping others get on board. Say your company decides to make a shift in policy affecting staff. There’s a better chance change will happen if you openly discuss WHY it’s in the best interest of the company and what’s behind the decision.

If these two concepts blend together, they become a powerful way to influence others. With innovation and the lightening speed of change, being an influencer can be the growing edge in your career or business.

Want to be a great influencer? Start with developing your self-awareness and communicate exactly the reason why you or (your business) do what you do.

Are you ready to put the “I” in INFLUENCER?