Monthly Archives: December 2009

Influence Without Expertise

An outstanding source of influence is a reputation for and track record of success as an expert in a given arena.  A wealth of credibility is earned when an individual is crowned by a community as the “go-to” person for information and results relative to a certain topic, process, or task. Leaders intent on making positive contributions in organizations and/or communities use the credibility and respect bestowed upon them for their specialization to motivate others to join them in the achievement of positive goals.

But what if you are a jack of all trades and master of none?

Here are three strategies a leader without a dominion over a niche can use to enhance personal influence.

Enlist the Help of Experts

In the absence of excellence in a particular subject your best move is to seek the help of those who know more than you do. If you choose this strategy beware of the self-proclaimed pro. The self aggrandizing expert is often not the top in her field. The best of the best are usually too busy applying their knowledge and skills toward the resolution of issues or advancement of opportunities to waste time broadcasting their greatness from every hill and soap box. Trying to align with the self-promoters in an attempt to ride their coat tails will not likely result in an improvement in personal influence levels. The outcome is typically a reputation as a sycophant. If your objectives are sound and you demonstrate a healthy amount of humility, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get the experts on board. Once they are engaged, give them plenty of space to perform that voodoo they do so well. In these circumstances, your role is to remove the obstacles that could stand in the way of their success. You’ll be amazed at how much gets accomplished.

The way you earn credibility and build up your influence with this strategy is to check your ego at the door and give the connoisseurs credit. Shine the spotlight on their accomplishments (especially if they are too modest to bring attention to themselves). In exchange for your selfless subjugation of ego, the experts will grant you open access to their treasure troves of information and capabilities. You’ll find that it is much easier to motivate people to follow you when they know you’re the person with access to valuable resources.

Be a Catalyst

A closely related strategy to enlisting the help of experts is to be the catalyst gathering together talented specialists. In order for this approach to succeed, you have to be able to cast a compelling vision for what could be produced through the collaborative efforts of these experts. You’ll have to carefully tailor your messaging to speak directly to the values and priorities of each pro you want to recruit. If you can’t find the link between your vision and an individual’s personal or business drivers, chances are there’s not a fit worth exploring. When actively building trusting respectful relationships with “the masters,” it’s best not to play a losing hand.

Once the right players are at the table, your job is to facilitate a process that taps into each of their specialties. Foster a collaborative environment closely focused on clearly defined objectives.

Malcom Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, speaks of the power of connectors. These are people with a gift for linking otherwise unconnected groups of people. Influence is the reward for this charismatic ability. Ron Burt, University of Chicago Booth School of Business Hobart W. Williams Professor of Sociology and Strategy,explains that this is a do it yourself proposition. You don’t become influential simply by connecting with the connectors. You must play the leading role. Influence is not awarded for playing best supporting actor.

Become The Expert

Of course, there is the option of increasing your level of influence and power by earning the distinction as an expert relative to a topic, process, or task. For the jack of all trades who has spent years circling high above the terrain, this means it’s time to land the plane. Plant a stake in the ground. Spend the time, energy, and money required to learn more than the average bear about something. If you choose this path, keep in mind a key factor almost all experts share—a passion for their subject. Spending your life in pursuit of excellence is far more fulfilling if you actually love what you’re doing and care immensely about the kingdom over which you’re striving to rule. Do not be confused about the order of operations. Influence is a by-product of expertise not the reason for it.

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The Most Important Part of a Productive Meeting

For those of us working in organizations as employees, vendors, or consultants, the ebb and flow of our time is greatly affected by a schedule of daily meetings.   

Influential leaders recognize, accept, and capitalize on the significance of meetings in everyday work life.

They astutely leverage this valuable time to motivate others to collaborate on initiatives, expedite decision-making, and facilitate the production of needed deliverables. While it is true that influential leaders artfully employ efficient meetings, it is also true that running productive efficient meetings increases personal influence. The Catch-22 is that it is much easier to organize and conduct productive meetings if you have a lot of influence as a leader. That said, people in the process of growing their influence can follow certain protocols to improve the efficiency of the meetings they run in order to enhance their credibility, improve their reputation as someone who “gets things done”, and build trusting relationships with others throughout the organization.

Typically, successful meetings embody some or all of the following characteristics:

  • The “right” people attended
  • Everyone was properly prepared
  • There was a steady focus on the right topics
  • The meeting produced well informed decisions and/or tangible results
  • The meeting outcomes were supported by consistent relevant follow up

Leaders whose meetings consistently model these characteristics carefully attend to the three parts of every meeting:  Preparation, Facilitation, and Follow-thru.

Which part do you think has the greatest impact on the effectiveness and productivity of a meeting?

Anyone who’s had a meeting start late, get off track, fail to produce any tangible results, and then end late knows the price to be paid for inadequate meeting preparation.  It’s important to keep in mind the frustration that comes from attending a poorly planned meeting; especially when faced with the decision of how much time and effort to invest before the participants convene.

Though our tendency is to “borrow” time from meeting planning to be used elsewhere, just know that, more often than not, we end up paying back this time plus interest both during and after the meeting!

Starting with preparation, the posts will cover a set of guidelines for how to plan, facilitate, and follow-thru on productive meetings. For optimum results, these methods should be executed in an environment conducive to and supportive of their application. Though not impossible, it is certainly an uphill battle to implement efficiency strategies in a culture that has grown accustomed to or even promotes counter-productive meeting practices. For more information on the impact of organizational culture on meeting efficiency, you may want to first read Productive Meeting Is Not An Oxymoron and/or Culture: The Organizational 12th Man.

 “Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” ~A.A. Milne

FIVE PEAS IN A PEAPOD

This is a catchy little device for remembering all of the steps to take when preparing for meetings:

  1. Purpose
  2. Payoff (3 H’s)
  3. Ponder the purpose
  4. People
  5. Process

            Potential Pitfalls

The first step towards a productive meeting is to develop a brief Purpose statement for the meeting. Answer questions such as:

  • Why conduct this meeting?
  • What do we want to achieve?

Once the purpose is clear, determine the meeting’s  Payoff or tangible output:

  • What will participants have in their Hands (deliverables, materials, action plan, etc.)
  • What will they have in their Heads? (knowledge, information, awareness)
  • What will be in their Hearts? (Beliefs, commitments, values)

Based on what you want to achieve with the meeting and the Payoff for the participants, it’s now time to Ponder the purpose. Ask questions such as:

  • Is this meeting really necessary?
  • Is there an alternative way to achieve the Purpose and Payoff without the time, effort, and/or expense of a meeting?
  • Could we get the same results using an alternative method such as email “round robin”, electronic survey, or one-way dissemination of information?
  • If a meeting is required, does it have to occur face-to-face or can it be conducted via teleconference, or video-conference?
  • If the meeting does need to be face-to-face, what is the appropriate venue (specific room requirements, food, AV equipment, on-site, off-site, etc.)?
  • How much time is needed to cover each agenda item? Is the total time required to complete the agenda too much for a single meeting? Can some of the work be accomplished by participants before the meeting?

Once you’re certain that the meeting does in fact need to be held. Your next step is to assess the People part of the equation. Develop a list of people who must attend in order to achieve the meeting’s Purpose. In other words, if there is no way to fulfill the Purpose without the individual, then that person must be there. Create a separate list of people you’d like to have attend or think could benefit or add some value, but without whom the Purpose could still be accomplished.

Before contacting People on either list, take the time to outline the Process you will use to achieve the Purpose. This is a list of the topics that need to be covered starting with a Review of the Agenda and ending with a Summary of the meeting. When you send this out as part of your invitation to participants, include the Purpose, Payoff, and a complete list of People.

A strong influence building strategy is to give the Must Attend participants a preview of the agenda. Ask for their input and ideas. As much as possible, incorporate their suggestions into the final agenda you send out to the group. This will ensure that the individuals critical to the meeting’s success have ownership of the outcome. It’s also an excellent way to secure attendance.

 For the Nice-to-Have individuals on your second list, provide them with a copy of the agenda and take a few minutes to discuss your interest in having them attend and the benefits they can gain by participating. It is important to graciously accept a decline from any of the people on this secondary list. By asking them to the meeting, you are signaling that you recognize their value. Extending them the courtesy of opting out without negative consequence (guilt, griping, grudges), you are reinforcing your understanding of their worth and demonstrating a sincere respect for their time. The trust and rapport you establish with this practice will make it that much easier to obtain their commitment and cooperation regarding future meetings.

You’re not quite done yet; the last step in thorough meeting preparation is to anticipate the Potential Pitfalls. On the tactical side, confirm administrative items such as whether or not the venue selected can comfortably accommodate the attendees. For the more strategic aspects of the meeting, consider questions such as:

  • What questions or concerns could arise about the Purpose, Payoff, or Process? How can these be addressed efficiently either before or during the meeting?
  • What are the “Hot” items that need to be addressed but could end up taking too much time or creating tangential discussions? What can be done to handle these constructively?
  • What items could come up that really don’t have anything to do with the meeting purpose and should not be addressed?

What other strategies have you used to prepare for meetings?

Have you ever experienced an inefficient meeting run by an influential person? What went wrong?

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