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strategy and business
 / Spring 2011 / Issue 62(originally published by Booz & Company)


Using Influence to Get Things Done

2. Leave your personal agenda at the door. Although the ability of executives to influence others often enhances their careers, self-aggrandizement isn’t their primary motivation. Some executives forget this fundamental truth. They become Machiavellian, playing politics in order to build their power base, or in the flush of success, they become drunk with power. They forget that personal success is a by-product of serving their companies well. With few exceptions, these executives lose their credibility with peers. Their motives are questioned and they eventually cannot muster the support on which their influential competence depends.

3. Rise above the game, but don’t ignore it. Executives who have developed influential competence are expert advocates. They enlist the support of their bosses. “You have to give your boss the benefit of your knowledge,” says DeVries, “but you must also give him or her the opportunity to take charge or change direction before you get too far down the line. That helps alleviate the political pressures within the company and the threat of retribution if you make a mistake.”

These savvy executives can also identify the formal — and informal — power brokers in a given setting and establish a personal dialogue with them prior to presenting the problem for consideration to the group as a whole. “It really becomes a matter of reading the tea leaves and knowing how much support you can expect,” says Richard Yoo, McDonald’s senior director of new product innovation and marketing, whom DeVries mentored. “You never want to be alone on an island. General Douglas MacArthur completely dismissed a lot of folks, including his commander in chief, Harry Truman. He made enemies out of a lot of people and eventually hit the wall.”

Executives who have developed influential competence seek to understand the mind-set of all members of the group. “Never go into a meeting without having prepped your enemies and your allies,” says Suzanne Sinclair, director of leadership talent acquisition at Allstate Insurance. “You also have to recognize that not everyone has pure motives, so you have to understand your colleagues’ agendas and how their agendas fit into the issue you are raising.”

4. Engage the group using emotional intelligence. “Go in with a humble attitude and a fact-driven presentation,” says DeVries. “These people don’t report to you. The only thing you have is influence, and if you can’t prove everything that you say to them about the potential costs of the current situation and the benefits of your solution, you are not going to get anywhere.”

Executives who have developed influential competence do not dominate discussions. “Actively solicit the thoughts of the group and listen respectfully to all members of the committee regardless of rank or role,” says Sinclair. “In fact, it is often very helpful to raise the areas of strong alignment and dissent without naming names.” This encourages open, critical debates that give the group an opportunity to understand the choices and the trade-offs you are proposing, she adds. “People will not buy in unless they’ve had the opportunity to understand and contribute to the decision at hand.”

5. Be tenacious, because decisions do not necessarily guarantee action. “Silence is something to be very concerned about,” says Sinclair. In other words, if the group reaches a decision but afterward nobody acknowledges it in either positive or negative terms (that is, no action is being taken to implement it), it’s important to figure out which additional levers need to be pulled to actively engage others.

“Don’t assume, and always monitor,” advises DeVries. “You have to follow up and reinforce the decision. You have to identify barriers and get people to talk to you about what they are doing to overcome them. You also need to communicate up; your bosses have their own agendas and unless you educate them and inform them about your progress, they could very easily send everyone off on a different tangent.”

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