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  • Mike Donoghue

Influence Without Authority

Way back in my career, I was placed in a company as a secondee. This was an interesting position to be placed in; the role was an advisory position where I was expected to support the development of an operation from the initial project phases through to sustaining operations. There was no team that I was given to lead or assign deliverables and outcomes to, it was all going to have to be achieved through influence.

It was interesting because from day one I was classed as an outsider with the tag "Spy". Initial suggestions I made on how the operations team, systems and processes should be developed were met with, "Yeah, that's not how we do it here." This was also an interesting perspective because the host company had never tried to build and operate a project of this type and scale, whereas, the company I was seconded from, had. That's not to say that I didn't achieve anything, it just took some time to build relationships and trust, this in fact helped ensure that the performance objectives I was given by my parent company were met, and in some cases exceeded.

Over the first two years frustration gave way to elation when the "Spy" tag started to get used less and less, and the question, "So Mike, how do you think this should be done?' became used more and more. This continued to grow to the extent that my host company manager came to rely on my knowledge and credibility to the extent that when there was an issue in a project deliverable he would ask if I could check it out and provide insight as to how to resolve the issue. This relationship continues to this day, where both of our careers have moved on, our friendships have grown and our working relationship still enjoys a similar dynamic.

So how did I manage to move from a position of the "Spy" with no credibility in an organization, to achieving many of the objectives I had been given and developing friendships? There were a number of skills, tactics, and values that I identified that I would have to display and develop within myself and continue to grow.

The first tactic was always to be willing to say, "Yes" (want to learn more on this? see Kait's blog from last week). I realized very early that the leadership team and their teams were watching to see how I reacted to requests for help. I demonstrated a "can do" attitude and when someone dropped by my desk and made a request for my help, regardless of whether I felt it was in my purview or not. If someone in the team was willing to offer me an "in" on a deliverable, I took the opportunity. The philosophy is next time I might get a request to support them on a deliverable that was in my purview. Remember I was the "Spy" so I had to build credibility as a team player.

Talking of credibility it is fine to accept a request for support but it has to be backed up with action. If I said I would do something; review a document or process, draft my thoughts for part of a document, then it had to be done. No ifs, ands, or buts, credibility comes from delivering on your commitments every time.

Another aspect of developing credibility in a team is demonstrating integrity. There were many conflicting viewpoints on how things should be done. Especially when it came to building an operations team with people from different companies and different business units within the host company. If ever a phrase was coined for a situation such as this, it would be, "Standardization is good, so long as it's my standard."

From the above problem came the solution of bringing teams together through a process of problem-solving by defining what the future state needed to be and then getting agreement or consensus on how to achieve this. Asking small teams that were selected; based on their own sphere of influence, to share what worked well previously, what didn't work and what QWERTY's existed (if you haven't heard of QWERTY drop me a message and I can tell you what it is). The output from these meetings resulted in a general consensus that the teams could use and work the processes and procedures developed on how to operate a facility. By helping teams come together and facilitating the solutions without forcing the issue, team members started to adopt me into their teams and each step along the way, ultimately this led to a better solution for everyone. Another skill that was wrapped up in this approach was seeking to listen, and understand. Demonstrating this, I showed that I was willing to collaborate and work toward a mutually beneficial solution rather than argue that there was only one standard.

Another aspect of integrity is that sometimes you get caught in the middle of a disagreement on how something should be done. Regardless of the relationships, you may hold with the interested parties, integrity requires that you hold to your values and help to achieve an outcome that is best for the company. To do this I developed my skills in Socratic questioning, and as these skills developed so did my credibility. I mentioned earlier always be willing to say yes, I should clarify, Always be willing to lend a hand when help is requested. When it comes to differences of opinion always saying, "yes", results in a loss of credibility. Strong leadership means accepting conflict as a natural progression in team building and trying to avoid conflict prevents people from committing to a course of action.

One final thought on Socratic questioning, in my experience sometimes you might have to help the interested parties to a solution so it is always a good idea to have a solution in your back pocket. If you don't it is probably best to be straight-up honest and decline the opportunity to intervene, another example of building credibility, saying you don't know something or don't have a position on the subject works. BS can be detected very easily.

Recognize that you can't achieve all this by yourself. I was very fortunate to find like-minded individuals, the host company manager being one of them, another person who shared my values joined me on the journey and is still with me today. I am proud to call her my business partner. When I am faced with a client issue that needs a collaborative solution, Kait is the first one I call. Kait is also very good at getting me to check my ego at the door and this is something else that I had to identify and work on, influencing is not about always being right it's about helping a team to arrive at a destination that works and will be adopted.

In addition to the two people above, there were many more in the teams that I recognized as allies, and working together we were able to find better answers that didn't require head-on conflict to achieve the outcome. Sometimes It might have been as simple as sowing an idea in a conversation and letting it grow. I came to realize that if an idea had value and was based on a solid premise (foundation) it didn't need to be pushed and that it would take on a life of its own. Go back to the paragraph above regarding checking your ego at the door, does it matter that it was your idea, or is it more important that the team or company benefited from it, remember "a rising tide lifts all boats."

Is that everything I did to build credibility and working relationships? Certainly not, although if I described everything I tried over that period of time you would most likely stop reading it around now. :)

Want to discuss your role or tactics on how to influence without authority? Reach out, a call doesn't cost a thing!

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