How do you effectively manage a project or team when everyone is equal?
Being an influencer and gaining engagement for a project is often one of the most difficult jobs when you want to lead, but technically don’t have the authority. So what can you do?
In a session at the Next Generation of Government Training Summit, Michelle Rosa, a cybersecurity risk analyst in the U.S. Navy, shared the best ways to motivate and inspire your peers in an effective and efficient way.
“Though I’ve moved up quickly in my career, I’ve never actually held a position of authority,” Rosa explained. “So this topic is very important and dear to my heart – and important to many others in government.”
Rosa started off the session by asking the audience to really think about why they want to influence other people. If you don’t really know your “why,” it’s hard to take action to actually influence others without a true mission.
Beyond the why, there are several concrete and tactical ways to improve leading through influence and your own authority.
The number one skill, Rosa said? Listening skills – a skill that many people, frankly, need to work on, and don’t often associate with leadership.
“Are you planning what you’re going to say next? Finishing somebody’s sentence? Interrupting? If you’re doing that, you’re never going to lead by influence,” Rosa said. “The reality is most of the time we don’t listen to understand. We listen to respond. We need to change that. There is a huge difference between listening and waiting for your chance to respond.”
Rosa listed five things we can do to improve our listening skills: observe body language; focus on the person in front of you; acknowledge the message, which can be as simple as saying, “I hear you,”; give respect and space for the other person to finish; and the last thing is ask questions – nothing says, “I’m listening,” more than asking simple questions.
Showing integrity, showing competence, and being a good speaker, are all key to establishing true credibility as a leader, Rosa said. “You need to be the first one to show up on time, the first one to own up to your mistakes, you need to start thinking more about your team than yourself. You need to be accountable and show that you care.”
Self-awareness is key to credibility as well. Do you know your weaknesses or blind spots? DISC, StrengthsFinders, and Meyers Briggs are all great personality tests to understand your weaknesses, so then you can acknowledge those and delegate them down when necessary.
Finally, being a good speaker helps establish credibility because it projects authority and confidence. Joining Toastmasters is one easy way to improve your speaking skills – not necessarily in order to be a good public speaker, but just for mere leadership presence and interactions.
Are you a chair-warmer at work, meaning you just show up and count down the hours at work? Or are you truly doing something every day to bring value to your mission? Three things can improve your value: knowing your organization and its mission inside and out; identifying your goals and projects that support your mission; and empowering your team members to tackle those tasks and goals that will bring you all closer to achieving your mission.
But how do you do that?
Rosa said the way forward is to bridge an individual’s tasks to the mission. “As a leader, you need to bridge the gap between what motivates and excites people and what the agency mission requires,” she said. What propels them? What motivates them? What helps them see the vision of the mission more clearly? Working to really understand your colleagues and what drives them is key to influencing people – because they then feel seen and supported by you.
There’s no getting around it – you need to improve your people skills in order to influence others and lead authentically. This is as simple as getting to know somebody by asking them for a walk or inviting them for a coffee. Find out about their hobbies or family. These things are genuinely important, and help to create stronger relationships.
“You can’t judge without knowing,” Rosa said.
The other thing that helps develop relationships is truly and genuinely sharing credit. You need to start looking for ways to help others advance and shine the spotlight on them. “Call out specific other people who are key to the success of your projects,” Rosa advised. And do it to leadership when possible.
So in terms of leadership – whether you have ‘authority’ or not – this acronym can help remember the value you can bring as an influencer:
“Leadership means it’s not just about you anymore,” Rosa said. “Raise others up.”