Getting Results When You Don't Have Control: The Power of Influence

Welcome to the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. In a world where knowledge has become a commodity, this podcast is designed to give you something more; access to the experience of a successful CEO who has already walked the path. So join your host Martin Moore, who will unlock and bring to life your own leadership experiences, and accelerate your journey to leadership excellence.

Hey there, and welcome to episode 39 of the No Bullsh!t Leadership Podcast. This week's episode, Getting Results When You Don't Have Control: The Power of Influence. Today, we're going to deal with a question from our listener, Leon. "When you don't own the resources that are necessary to deliver results, how do you motivate people who report to other leaders and may be working to a different agenda?" Moving across boundaries to deliver value is a core skill in complex organisations. Gone are the days of being able to rely upon direct control of resources to deliver your outcomes. Almost everything of value requires collaboration and cooperation, but aligning people's focus and intent on the right things is much harder than it seems.

We'll start with a quick review of power from way back in episode 5 as this is an essential concept when we talk about influencing. I'll then cover off on what the prerequisites are for influencing across boundaries, and we'll have a free downloadable PDF for you from the Your CEO Mentor website that you can pick up after you listen to the episode. I'll move on to talk briefly about the accountability paradox, and we'll take a look at how and when to ask for air cover from the boss. I'll then finish with some traps for young players. So let's get into it.

Let's talk about power. In episode five, I did a brief overview of the different types of power we use to influence and how, as leaders, we must choose wisely the means we employ to get our people to do what they need to do. Some forms of power are more useful than others. Some are more prone to abuse than others. Now, all forms can be used legitimately, but you need to be clear about what power you're using and what the impacts of doing that might be. Just in summary, the five types of power are: reward, coercion, expert, legitimate and referent. This was described by Social Psychologists, John French and Bert Raven in the late 1950s. This stuff's not new.

This work was groundbreaking, and it really hasn't changed much in the last 60 years, so here's a few examples just to demonstrate. If you have children, you may have said at some point, "You get $5 pocket money each week but only if your chores are all done." This is what we call reward power. You're trying to get someone to do what you want them to do by offering an incentive. To those same children as teenagers, you may have said something like, "If you don't make curfew, you'll be grounded." This is coercive power. You're trying to get someone to do what you want them to do by threatening a consequence. Together, these two types of power, reward and coercive, are what we call carrot and stick.

The next type of power is expert. We all have expertise in some areas, which we enjoy using, and we love it when people seek us out and ask our advice on an area of our expertise, like how to barbecue the perfect medium rare fillet steak, which, I might add, is one of my special skills. Expert power enables you to influence others because they recognise your expertise in a particular area. Many leaders rely on their expert power as their sole source of influence, which is super dangerous, and I'll tell you why. It tells people who work for you that the boss knows best. The boss is always right. The organisation that leader creates will be a knowing organisation, rather than a learning organisation, so knowledge is power. It sends a signal and indicates that as long as the boss is focused on their technical skills, they won't focus on the hard work of leadership. Things like building capability, setting and observing the standards, challenging, coaching and confronting their people and so forth. They just rely on what they know.

The next type of power vests in the position that you have, and it's called legitimate power. Many leaders get results purely because of their position, and some industries are even predicated on this, so police and emergency services and so forth. Whereas every formal leadership position has an element of this that's part and parcel of the role, this power should be used wisely, and it should be used sparingly. You might be able to play the boss card to get you done, but people will resent you for it. You'll never harness their discretionary effort. Have you ever heard someone say, "Okay, you're the boss!" Well, if they do, it's a sign that you probably just got that one wrong because the translation is, "Boss, you're wrong. I think you're a dead set muppet, but I like my job, so I know I have to do it, but don't you worry. I will get back at you, and you won't even know how and when and where I've done that."

We've covered off on reward, coercive, expert and legitimate power. The final type of power is called referent power. As a leader, getting things done through influence and relationships and appealing to people's sense of purpose and contribution is the holy grail. This is where you get people doing things for the right reasons. They trust you. They believe in you, and they sign up to your values and the organisation's agenda. This is much more likely to tap into your people's intrinsic motivation. There is no substitute for building and utilising your referent power.

What are the prerequisites for influencing across boundaries? Let's be clear. You're going to need a shitload of referent power here, but the benefits, if you realise, are astronomical. What you need to do is align people that you have no control over to working towards a single goal for which you hold accountability. There's five things I've got here.

The first one is trust.

When you want someone to do something for you, they will always hesitate. They need to know that you won't burn them, and if things go pear-shaped, you're not going to leave them swinging in the breeze, but they also want to know the WIIFM Principle, What's In It For Me? Now, we dedicate a whole video lesson to trust in the Leadership Beyond the Theory program, which unless you've been living under a rock, you know it's our seven-week online leadership programme, but there is a lot of good stuff out there on trust, so just have a look around.

The second thing is that when you need something from someone else, you need to take time to understand their drivers. Don't just go in looking for something from them. You should seek to serve. For example, you want to let them be part of an exciting mission-critical initiative, and they need to understand how that fits in with what their goals are. You go in with the attitude, "What can I do to help you, and how can we form an alliance that makes for a better outcome for the organisation," but you also need to understand, what are their KPIs, because those will drive them. What will make them look good? If we can't deliver value through my initiative, how can we share the spoils? Turn this around to not just ask for something but to see how you can mutually benefit the people you're working with.

The third thing is to ensure that resource allocations are appropriate. Work out if the people you're asking for stuff from are actually resourced to support you. Now, often, your boss will say to you, "Go and get support from HR," or "Go and get support from Legal," but HR and Legal never factored this work into their annual planning cycle. If you're asking for it, you better be prepared to help resource it. You can say, for example, to the Chief Legal Officer, "You may not have the resources and funding to do this, but if I could give you $30, 000, would you be able to support this through one of your partner firms in the market that we use for this type of work?" If you want people to solve problems for you, you need to take responsibility for helping them remove their own roadblocks but not if they're uncooperative. Then, you have a different problem.

Number four, check the strategic alignment. Now, I don't mean I can shoehorn this thing. I want to do so that it aligns with strategic imperative number six. I've seen a hell of a lot of that in my time. It's a different question. Does what you are asking for align with the organisation's highest value imperatives, or is it just what you want to do when you need some help with it? Be open to the possibility that the people you're trying to get to do stuff for you might have genuinely higher priorities than your project or need. If so, you need to influence your boss to secure a change in their delivery expectations.

Finally, number five, get commitment. If you can cross the barrier of having someone agree, then you need to make sure they understand that you expect them to follow through. Now, a quick shout out to Kerwin Rae. Em and I just attended his Nail It and Scale It workshop for three days, which is just unbelievable, so if you get a chance, you should do that, but he does a fantastic exercise in that workshop on commitment. Now, Kerwin is an absolute champion. He's incredibly astute that more to the point, he's just so generous in sharing what he knows.

Now, to get commitment, you need to look someone in the eye and ask them for their commitment. You have to tell them that you don't want them to commit unless they are sure they can deliver, and unless they're serious about doing it, you need them to commit to other people, like their boss, that they will deliver what they've promised you. They need to know that you will hold them to their word, not with a thread of sanctions. That's coercive power, but with their own professional pride.

Let's talk briefly about the accountability paradox because we need to be really clear who owns accountability for what. When we're working across boundaries in different parts of an organisation, knowing who's cooking the chook is so important. For example, do you have primary accountability for delivery of the outcomes? If not, then guess what? It's not your job to fight for it. Cross-functional initiatives have a habit of finding the most enthusiastic person to be accountable. That's not necessarily the right person. I want to say that again in a slightly different way. This is really important. The most enthusiastic and committed person is not necessarily the right person to have accountability for something.

Here's a classic example. An organisation is implementing a new accounts payable system. The CFO is accountable for the function, for successful project delivery and for benefits realisation, but the Chief Information Officer has the technical team that tailors and installs the software, which is a large component of the overall project in terms of resources. The CFO throws the slippery pig over the fence to the Chief Information Officer and says, "Catch this. It's an IT techy thing, so you're accountable." Now, CIOs love doing work on new systems because it's fun, and so the CIO's going to try to catch the slippery pig. The CIO takes accountability, but it's not that executive who should actually be driving it. If all goes well, the CFO takes the glory because it's their accounts payable system, but if it fails, the CIO gets publicly flayed. Whose fault is this? It's not the CFO's fault. The CFO's just doing what 99% of execs would do under those circumstances. It's the CIO's fault and the CIO's boss. You should not take accountability for something that isn't yours. That can only end in tears.

You get the accountabilities right and then drive them, but you need to be explicit particularly when you're going over to other groups that are across the boundaries from you. Say for example, "Sally the lawyer, I know you report to Emma, the General Counsel, but for this particular piece of work, you're going to report to me." Now, it doesn't really matter whether it's a dotted or hard-lined to you. That's immaterial, but you need to say, "Sally, here are the outcomes that I expect from you. Here's what support you can expect from me. If you need anything, just let me know, and I'll give you a hand," but cross-functional collaboration should never trump accountability.

Collaboration is noble and desirable, but to be clear, it's also a little fluffy. People often say, "Don't do anything unless you're collaborating." Well, okay, but first and foremost, you have to deliver shit. Collaboration's also a link to diversity inclusion for all the right reasons, but if you don't understand that it is subordinate to accountability, that shit will kill you. This is a critical concept, so spend time on understanding how it plays out in your context. There's a part of me that wants to say, "Don't try this at home," but you have to.

When do you ask for air cover? Well, first of all, at the very start. Get expectations clear. Everyone who's involved needs to know they have their boss's support, so identify the one person who has purview of all the areas contributing. In many cases, with complex deliverables in an organisation, this may be the CEO, but this is your ultimate point of escalation. You got to make sure that everyone who's contributing has bought in and committed to those deliverables, and that the one person who can be the deadlock breaker knows that, that's the role they have to play. Once you've clearly set up the escalation points, then the only time you actually need to use it is if someone genuinely isn't playing ball, and even for this, there's a graduation for escalation options.

First of all, it's up to you to understand what the problem is from the other person's perspective. If they're just having some issues, then of course, try and help them. They might have workload issues or blockages in other parts of the delivery ecosystem, but if they're being recalcitrant, then assuming you've asked for and received their commitment, remind them of this. Reiterate your expectations and needs. Reconfirm that they gave you their commitment. Yes, don't be afraid to make them feel uncomfortable about not living up to their commitment. If this is how they behave, then it's a behaviour that will permeate their lives. They'll know deep down that you're right. They won't necessarily like it, but they will understand your perspective. Also, don't be afraid to reiterate the strategic significance of the initiative you've got them working on.

Here's a quick hint. If you can't do this really easily, then your initiative is probably the wrong thing to be working on anyway, but if you can't get people to shift and recommit through this process, having given them every opportunity to come to the party, then you need to escalate to a higher power. Don't do this precipitously. Think about whether or not it's justified before you take that step. However, just know that this is one of the biggest impediments to successful cross-functional delivery. The accountable person thinks, "I'm not getting what I was promised, but I don't want to escalate because then, I will risk being ostracised. I'm conflict diverse, so I don't want to start any trouble. If I escalate this issue inside of precedent, then someone might escalate something that I haven't done that I should have." Also, in Australia, at least, the principle of not dobbing on your mates has been preconditioned in us since we breathed our first breath, but guess what? If you want to be a successful leader who delivers, you'd better get over this.

Alright. Let's wrap this up quickly with a few traps for young players. Number one, watch their feet, not their lips. People are going to tell you what you want to hear, not because they mean to be disingenuous but because they're simply conditioned to comply and they want to be liked, so make sure you can measure the progress and outputs readily, and move quickly if things start to go south. There is nothing worse than closing the gate after the horse has bolted.

Number two, don't use escalation to substitute for poor relationships and influencing skills. I used to say to my execs, "If you can't win the trust and respect of your peers, then I can't help you with that." I've got to tell you, I've sacked more than one senior leader in my time for precisely that reason. If you're the one being escalated to, you should be reluctant to play referee or deadlock-breaker just because your people aren't working well together. Always seek to have the accountable person resolve it, and give them some ideas on how they can do it. Sometimes, if you are the escalation point, it's always useful to put your armoury on someone's shoulder and smile, and give them a quiet word of advice.

Third trap for young players is under resourcing, so in the planning phase, we tend to underestimate almost everything. Quite often, whole areas of essential input aren't considered, so for example, we're changing some major processes in the business, but we forget to factor in training and change management costs. We go late to people that we need help from without an appropriate plan and without appropriate resourcing. We just have an urgent demand. No wonder they don't want to help you. Poor planning on your part doesn't constitute an emergency on my part.

Another key trap for young players is not escalating appropriately when it's time, so we've probably said enough about this, but I find that people are generally way too slow to escalate when the problems first occur. Remember, hope is not a strategy, so hoping that a critical stakeholder will come through with a result against all the evidence you've seen to the contrary is absolutely futile.

Finally, another trap for young players is assuming that someone else has got this. Just because the work lives in another area doesn't mean you take your hands off the steering wheel. Be careful not to micromanage, but you have to ensure you have measures that you can check progress on readily and accurately. Stay in touch with lots of communication and lead the people as if they were your own, so you need to get in there and challenge, coach and confront the people who are working on your initiative, even if they don't belong to you in a strict hierarchical sense. There's no need to ask for permission. You are accountable, but just make sure the substantive boss understands your role and the approach you're going to take.

Alright, so that brings us to the end of episode 39. Thanks so much for joining us, and remember, at Your CEO Mentor, our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally, so if you're enjoying the podcast, please share it with the leaders in your network who you think will benefit because this is how the world of work improves. I look forward to next week's episode, Building The Balanced Team.

Until then I know you'll take every opportunity you can to be a No Bullsh!t leader.