How can I be more influential with my team? My boss?
Many of us have asked ourselves that question. Maybe you are the leader but seem to be struggling to get people to listen to you. Or perhaps you are on the team, but people aren’t listening to you when you speak.
How do you get their attention and make them take you seriously? In this post we’ll talk about one way you can do that. It won’t be quick, it will take some effort, but it will be effective.
Path to Authority
There are lots of paths to becoming more influential. Steve Bressert, PhD. does a great job of laying out many of them in his post about Persuasion and How to Influence Others. One of those ways is to make sure you know what you are talking about: Authority.
It’s hard for any of us to follow someone if we think they do not know what they are doing. The same applies if you want them to follow you. When others view you as an authority on something, you are much more likely to get their attention when talking about it.
The word Authority has its roots in the word autorite, which means “book or quotation that settles an argument.” It’s related to the word author. So in this sense, someone with authority is the expert and last word on a subject. When you have that, and people recognize it, you carry a lot of influence.
Doing the Grunt Work
So how do you become an authority? Here’s a short story that illustrates one way to accomplish this in a very short time.
A while ago I was stationed in Panama with an Army parachute unit. All of us had been to parachute school and knew the basics of the business. It’s a complex and risky process to safely throw hundreds of people and equipment out of an airplane at night 1,000 feet above the jungle, but we were pretty good at it.
One day a new Lieutenant joined the unit. He was younger and less experienced that all of us, but he had a craving to learn and get better at the craft. So he threw himself into every aspect of parachuting that he could. He did everything his own unit did, and then he took some of his spare time and volunteered to help out other units.
Sometimes it was simply getting more experience jumping out of the airplane. At other times, it was doing the grunt work of helping make things go smoothly at the hanger, or helping the team on the ground guiding in the aircraft, or inside the plane working with the air crew.
More than once, as many of us had finished our day and were headed home, we would see him heading down to the airfield to help out on yet another mission.
Soon, he had as much experience as we did, and not long after that, he had more. Though he was relatively junior in rank, more senior people began to ask him to help out. And then they started asking for his advice.
His expertise and experience was recognized. He had become very good at something that was important, and as a result he soon became very influential in what and how we did parachute operations, despite his lower rank.
Leading With Authority – The Takeaway
When you can speak from experience, people will listen. When you know more about something than others, people will notice. When you can share that information in a way that helps the team, people will value you. Your influence will grow.
Pick something important to you and to the team:
• Learn all you can about it
• Get all the experience you can doing it
• Do it with a different team to get perspective and learn new techniques
• Come at it from as many angles as you can – worker-bee, coordinator, planner, customer…
• Ask lots of questions; become a student
• Get your hands dirty
Soon your expertise and experience will grow, and with it, your authority will grow, too.
One other thing to notice from this story. The lieutenant didn’t just do what was expected of him. He did more. That’s what made him exceptional.
People want to follow someone who knows what he is talking about. Make yourself into that person.