Inside many of us who aspire to lead is a burning desire to make a difference. We’re not satisfied with sitting on the sidelines or waiting for someone to tell us what to do. We may not get it right but we’ll be damned if we’re going to go down without a fight. In the immortal words of Def Leppard we’d rather “burn out than fade away”. If you don’t know what I’m talking about this might be a good place to stop reading this post. If you do, then you can already feel the emotion building in your chest.
We enter this profession, sometimes as a calling, often unexpectedly. Once we’re in we’re hooked. Then the real work begins. We begin to understand the values that will define our leadership. We learn hard lessons and fight through failures. Each experience shapes our character; bending us toward our destiny. If we endure, we may experience brief passages of external success or reward but for most of us the real treasure is in the belief that we have done some good in the world that will carry on when we are gone. The hope that somehow we’ve left an impression in the lives of others. That our influence made a difference.
Every story will come to an end. Sometimes in our timing and sometimes before we expected and beyond our control. When the story ends what do you want people to remember? What are the words, experiences and images you will have impressed in the minds of those you have been gifted to serve?
The human impact of your leadership is your leadership ROI, (Return on Influence).
Want to improve your ROI? It’s pretty intuitive and works a lot like ROI strategies applied to business investment decisions.
- Know Your Business – In this case the point is to know yourself. Get clear on your values and intentions. Write them down. Make sure you develop and care for the resources in your spirit and your body to see the mission through.
- Define Your Outcome – Get clear on your outcomes. Visualize the impact you want to make. Imagine what’s happening in the organization and feel the emotions. See the impact on the lives of people and the reach that impact will have. Have a clear picture in mind that you can use as your guide.
- Do Your Research – Take the time to get to know people, really know them. Find out what makes them tick and how you can influence where it matters to them. Connect at an emotional level. Show you are serious by learning names and being interested in more than work talk.
- Build Your Plan – Be intentional about your influence. See every interaction as an opportunity to make a difference. Use meetings, messaging, t-shirts, social media, whatever it takes. Wherever possible try to touch lives one to one. Learn how to be an effective coach and mentor.
- Get Started and Take Risks – This is where many leaders balk. To influence means to risk rejection. You have to be willing to make yourself vulnerable, admit mistakes and push the limits of relationship building if you want to have the maximum impact. Go first. Tell people what you are about and ask them to hold you to your mission.
- Check the Results – You probably won’t have “metrics” to measure your influence but the evidence should be all around you. Check in with people. Ask them open-ended questions. Get out of your office and pay attention to the signals in the group. Note if there is a shift in what people are talking about and how they interact.
Too mechanical for you? Here are a few simple ways you can exercise influence right now!
- Provide opportunities for individual growth. Teach a personal development class that has no perceived value to operating the business. I taught a one day, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People workshop that ultimately was attended, (voluntarily), by over ½ of our employees in less than a year. Can you imagine the impact of everyone in your company having a personal mission statement and a clear set of goals for their life? Most of the 20 something employees who attended had never had anyone teach them how to plan their life and encourage them to take control of their future.
- Provide messages that build individual confidence. Tell every person you come in contact with that you believe in them. Experiment with finding some way to get this message through in every work, performance or coaching conversation. Out of curiosity I recently conducted an informal survey of about 50 employees asking them what person had the most positive influence on their life and why. The answers varied, (though a good 80% said Mom or Dad …kudos to all the much maligned parents out there), but the reason for their choice was almost unanimous. In some form or fashion this person believed in them and encouraged them to make something of their life. As a leader you can make a powerful impact by instilling this message whenever you can.
- Provide a context for individual success. Create a story that gives everyone an opportunity to find their place and play a part. Use communication tools like message boards, corporate social networks, team meetings, t-shirts, fun events, etc. to celebrate the stories of success happening all the time at every level. In our small company I didn’t have access to a social network or intranet so I paid for a secure message board online, set up a bunch of topics, created a few simple guidelines and then just let people go for it. The idea was to help people connect and build community but also to encourage sharing of stories, experiences, etc. that served our values and our vision. Everyone could share about anyone or anything. Before long the teams were almost competing to create the most amazing customer service stories and having fun with it. When they saw it could be done, and could be fun, the change was contagious.
No doubt you could come up with many more ideas on how to expand your influence and increase your ROI. Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts and comments. Whatever it takes… don’t take your influence for granted. It’s the only way to change the world… and we leaders always like to think we can change the world.
In my team meetings I generally closed with this statement. “My goal is that when you leave here you will have somehow grown as a person, that you will feel your life was made better by this experience.” Then I would encourage them to help me in that mission and pay it forward with our customers and in our community. Have you declared your influence? Consider writing down your ROI goals. State the things you want to do to expand your influence and go out and start making some waves. You never know who you might inspire.