How to earn more access, impact and influence in your work and life.
To all the Number Twos and those who want to be more significant trusted advisors – the disappointed, frustrated, yet eager and persistent staff people in communications, corporate strategy, finance, human resources, law, IT, business continuation and recovery, compliance, and security: YOU. Who know that if only you could get to the inner circle and be heard, your advice could save the day and avoid career defining moments for your boss, associates, maybe family and others.
This article and others to follow will help you become the Number One Number Two you imagine yourself to be, wherever you work, whether you are an internal expert or an outside consultant. The concepts I will talk about here will make your professional and personal lives richer, more professionally rewarding, happier and even exhilarating.
Having influence means being remembered, being asked in on decisions and strategy well before the strategies are selected and the decisions need to be made. It is creating the desire in someone else to hear your views before they make important decisions or take actions that matter.
Having more influence, access and impact, working at the top, is exciting, intense, and often fraught with confrontation and the clash of big egos and ideas. Some days it is like being in intellectual combat. Winston Churchill once remarked that there is absolutely nothing more invigorating than being shot at . . . and missed.
If you are serious about becoming a trusted strategic advisor, welcome to the line of fire.
The Realities of Getting Heard
One reality of wanting influence is that there is only so much face time, air time, meeting time, and thinking time available to those who run organizations. The closer you get to the top, the fewer in number there are of these important people. Therefore, to begin having influence requires a personal strategy of accomplishment, commitment, and personal incremental progress that helps set you apart from the wannabes, the dreamers, and the self-servers. This differentiation needs to start wherever you are in your organization today and to continue until you get to the level you seek to achieve. You will need a strategy to be noticed along with ideas, concepts, thinking and stories that will make you memorable. That’s what the articles in this series will be about.
Ask yourself three serious, honest questions: What will my boss learn or do better if he or she listens to me? What do I gain if the boss does listen? Why should the boss, my colleagues, family and others I can or want to help, listen to me?
When I asked these questions of other advisors, the usual reasons I hear are: "I have a more specialized knowledge of the business than most bosses", "My ideas are certainly as good as anyone else’s", "I am better than those already in place”, and my all-time favorite, "I have the right to be heard". If you have other or hear of other reasons why the boss should listen to you, write them down. You can try validating them as you learn more about what it takes to become a trusted strategic advisor, at whatever level you happen to be working.
Now ask the same questions from the boss’s point of view. The responses I hear quite often relate to past mistakes and judgments, such as: "If they’d listened to me, or I had been in the room", "They would not have made that agonizing retrenchment decision", "If I had been in the meeting, our approach to that opportunity would have been entirely different and far more successful, and we would have kept more of the business", "Had they asked me, we could’ve avoided that dumb, expensive and embarrassing series of mistakes", or "The boss has blind spots and deficiencies that need to be addressed”. The mindset these comments reveal is quite common, but as you will discover, this sort of approach will always get in the way of your becoming a trusted advisor. I will teach you sensible crucial new ones.
Here is a test of your current level of influence in your organization:
- Do people remember what you say and quote you in other places and venues?
- Do people remember what you say and quote you when you are in the room?
- Do people tell your stories and share your lessons as though those stories and lessons belonged to them?
- Do people tell your stories and share your lessons and credit you?
- Do others seek out your opinion and ideas or share their agendas and beliefs with you in the hope of influencing you to influence the behavior of others more senior than you?
- Are meetings held up, waiting for you to arrive, to make important contributions, decisions or interpretations of current events?
Even if you ace this test, I think you find these articles very helpful.
For more than 40 years I have coached and counseled the men and women who run all sizes of corporations and organizations helping them deal with tough, touchy, sensitive management communications and leadership issues, often when their leadership of the organization is at stake. I have advised top executives facing issues ranging from media-initiated investigations to product recalls and plant closings, from ethics failures and criminal litigation to corporate takeovers and serious executive malfeasance.
As an individual trusted with some of the most personal and important information my clients have, I’m constantly putting myself in their shoes, looking at the world from their perspective and helping them adjust to current realities; resolved issues and problems that were probably self-generated; identify threats, vulnerabilities and opportunities; and constructively motivate them to move successfully into the future. My job is always to assist those individuals and those on whom they rely to recognize the nature of the times and adapt effectively so that they can continue running organizations with championship, leadership, compassion, accountability, and decency.
You will learn how CEOs perceive those who hold staff functions and about the behaviors and attitudes of staff that hold them back, making staff less influential than they could and should be. You will discover specific skill sets you need to become a trusted strategic advisor and receive guidance on developing those skills; you’ll also gain a better understanding of what is expected of you and how to meet those expectations. Specifically:
- How leaders think and operate and the eight things all bosses expect.
- How to think and operate in ways the boss can relate to.
- How to achieve real impact, powerfully give advice.
- A fundamental life concept that will change your whole method of thinking, advising and achieving: "All problems, issues and serious questions are management, leadership or personal problems before they are any other kind of problem, issue or serious question."
- Avoiding the six most corrosive and trust-busting behaviors advisors make.
Remember, Number Twos come in bunches, like bananas they all look and taste the same. The Number One Number Two is known for truthfulness, compassion, sensitivity, sensibility, candor, civility, integrity and decency. We have a lot to talk about and learn together. Welcome aboard.