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Many definitions of leadership involve the word INFLUENCE. “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” (John Maxwell) What does influence have to do with leadership, though?  A leader needs to do two things: build or maintain relationships, and get things done.

What is common to all cultures is the need for a leader whom people trust and admire. But in the global organizations that exist today, what makes someone trustworthy and admirable when you have five different cultures in the room as those attributes are viewed differently across cultures? Also, there are various personality types in addition to cultural differences. Lastly, don’t forget the various levels of dysfunction that exist in most corporate cultures! Therefore building or maintaining relationships can get complicated.

So how do you  build relationships and get things done in this kind of environment? INFLUENCE.  There are many different ways to positively influence people. For example, you can use logic, you can be clear about what you need, you can draw out the other person using disclosure to make them comfortable, and you can speak to what you both have in common and paint a picture of where you are headed.  Positive influence is about being genuine and authentic which builds trust, hence relationships. That trust is built when the leader is consistent and therefore reliable.  These attributes come naturally when a leader uses positive influence.

Many leaders want everything delivered in sound bites of data. The direct reports are instructed to have the problem defined and fixed, with the data to support the solution. If you can’t present it in ten minutes, then don’t bother. What many corporate structures do is isolate people as they get promoted so internal relationships become less and less important. Getting things done becomes critical, as the top layers are beholden, i.e. in a publicly traded company, to the Board and, in the US, to investors and Wall Street.

However, there is a period of time with each ascending role where internal relationships are critical in order to get things done. Understanding that each person is a unique personality requires you to be flexible in your use of appropriate influence styles, which is critical to your success in building solid relationships.

In order to get things done globally generally translates to a lot of conference calls with people that have never been in the same place physically and have cultural differences. There is, however, a similarity between unique personalities and different cultures.  Leaders have to stop focusing entirely on their own agenda and understand what matters to their direct reports regardless of culture. Knowing about the culture you are interacting with obviously is a great first step. The next step is to create the time to connect. Listen to what the issues are that create barriers to progress. Make it safe for people to give you bad news. Back up your people when things go wrong. Be present.

Whenever I talk to groups about being present, the room becomes very still.  When I am present with another person from any culture, the gift of my attention in this age of a million distractions creates an immediate bond. When I am willing, as a leader, to be present with someone, I am authentic and become more trustworthy. I am then a leader whom people want to follow.  And isn’t that the definition of impactful leadership?  Building my constituency one relationship at a time and exceeding expected results.

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