My first global role was completely matrix leadership. On day one I didn’t have a single direct report. My first week I went to a team building event with my new peers. Somewhat intimidating. I didn’t really know many/any of them that well…but there I was.
The first night was a welcome reception. As well as nervous I was also jet lagged. I walked to the bar, asked for a drink, stood there and looked around. Alone.
Just like that, my (soon to become) best friend at work appeared in front of me, smiled, touched glasses and said “welcome to the team – I am so pleased you are here“. I was so happy, and so relieved. And she promptly introduced me to everyone else on the team, who – of course – were just as friendly…
I sat that night with my new best friend at work and we chatted. I knew then I was going to enjoy working on this team and that I was going to learn so much. She asked me all sorts of questions. And the one I remember most was about how was I going to be successful in my new role with no line responsibility for any of the people or teams I was expected to influence and improve.
I had thought about this question. After all, my ability to achieve this influence would define my success in the role. And prior to that moment I had only ever had roles with line responsibility for those I was expected to influence and impact.
My answer? That I wasn’t really worried about this. I know. Not entirely truthful but there we go. Not that my best friend at work was convinced – either by my answer or my conviction. Really? Are you sure? Why not? We talked…I listened…I thought…I learned.
I believed that fundamentally we achieve influence and impact through the clarity and persuasiveness of our communication, suggestions and ideas. If they are good and clear and compelling we will be successful. If they are not we will not.
I know about and understand positional authority. I just try to avoid using it. Or assuming it. And definitely never expecting it. And my logic is always the same. Yes I want to have positive influence and yes I want to make positive impact – but I don’t want this to only happen because I am someone’s line manager
Positional authority always feels easier and (seductively) gives the impression of being quicker. But its not. Either. At least in my experience. Both as a recipient and as a user. Over any period of time influence via assumed respect is minimal. And impact is transient.
Communication of good, clear and compelling ideas and suggestions tends to take more energy and more time. But it always works. And better yet…influence and impact is higher and more sustained because both have been achieved through partnership and discussion. More often than not, I find the process of communication results in better ideas than I had thought of alone.
As I reflect back to that conversation that night at that reception with my best friend at work I realize now that she knew. She knew what I had to do (and not do) to be successful in my new role. And she knew how to have most influence and lasting impact on me. But I wonder if she realized when she helped a nervous and jet lagged new team member just how significant and how lasting her influence and impact would be on me, on my career and on everyone I have worked with to this day.