Many people think that influence is just for sales and marketing people. But actually if you’re a CFO or a procurement director, an in-house attorney or an engineer, you need influence to advance your career, to sell your ideas and to advocate for your team.
Influence is a process and not an event. And influence doesn’t come from the brilliance of your ideas. Influence comes from your ability to create a strong personal brand and to build a network of advocates around you.
Create a strong personal brand:
We all know what a personal brand is. It’s how you are known; your reputation. It’s what people think about when they think about you.
Having a strong personal brand is essential to influence. When people know they can count on you, know what you stand for, they are more likely to listen to you and “vote” for your ideas.
One of my clients found that out over the period of the year I coached him. Chris was the Vice President of finance for a large public tech company. The company did not have a consistent approach to budgeting, leading to confusion in how much each department could spend and a lot of work rationalizing budgets around the company. Chris wanted to institute some streamlined, consistent processes to improve the system and save money for the company.
When he tried to get buy-in for this new process, however, he got a wake up call. Key people did not support his idea. When I started coaching him, I talk to the people around him to get feedback for him. I found out that he was seen as smart, but that people believed he focused on the little things and not larger strategic issues. “Smart but tactical” was his brand. Chris was shocked to hear this, but after digesting it he decided to dig in and work on his brand.
Together we created a focused plan to build Chris’s brand as “strategic.” Before meetings he spent time thinking about the topic of the meeting and how he could add a strategic insight. He spent more time with a vice president of strategy and a vice president of corporate development to broaden his view. And he listened carefully to the CFO to see what she determined to be “strategic.”
After about eight months I went back to the people around Chris and asked them what changes they had seen in him. Unanimously they saw him as much more strategic, and also positive which was an interesting side benefit. With this stronger brand as background, Chris positioned his idea as strategic and got buy-in very quickly to do a pilot. The process got rolled out fully a year later, and Chris got promoted.
Top tip to build your brand:
Ask yourself what you want to be known for. Remember that if you are seeking to move up in your career you want to be known for your “leadership” and “executive” brand, not just your technical expertise.
Enhance your network:
A key part of having an effective brand is that the right people know about you. The “right” people are the ones who can help you get things done in your company.
The right people are all around you. It’s important for you to be connected to the people above you in the organization structure because they can greenlight projects for you. Strong connections with your peers – especially cross-functionally – are essential because they are the ones who help you conceive of and implement large-scale cross-functional projects. And don’t ignore the people who report in to you and their peers. They are the ones who will tell you what’s really going on and work extra hard to make you successful if you have the right relationship.
My client Barbara – the Chief Audit Officer of a public pharmaceutical company – saw that she needed to build her network when she was not invited to key meetings on potential acquisitions. She was frustrated by this, of course. But after we talked it through she saw that people got invited to these meetings based on their relationship with the Chief Counsel – someone she had a difficult relationship with – and their head of corporate development – someone she didn’t know at all.
Here are few facts: Barbara really should be in those meetings as a function of her job. And it’s not fair that she was excluded because she didn’t know the right people. And yet, that’s exactly what was happening. Yes, life is not fair, and that goes double for corporate life.
I coached Barbara to make friends with reality and improve her relationship with the Chief Counsel as well as get to know the had of corporate development. She did. Within one year (these things don’t happen overnight) she was invited to meetings related to acquisitions. As a side benefit she got to know many more people at the company and could then give her team much more interesting work. Building your network has many rewards.
Top tip to enhance your network:
Identify the 3-5 most important people you need to influence. Make a plan to build your relationship with them. What do you know about them already personally and professionally that will help you? Then repeat with some more people.
This article first appeared in www.forbes.com
Guest Author: Alisa Cohn, Contributor, Leadership Strategy. Writes about leadership, start ups, and interesting related topics.