How to activate your influence when it feels hard


Visibility Co.

One thing that consistently amazes us in the work we do is how even the most accomplished, capable leaders underestimate their own potential and influence. It often takes us holding a mirror up to them, and describing them back to themselves as we see them - or challenging them to be bolder in their visioning, for them to see what’s possible for their own impact and career.

It gets even trickier when leaders find themselves in challenging situations: when they’re dealing with manipulative or non-values-aligned colleagues, working in dysfunctional environments, or tackling structural or cultural inequality. In these situations their sense of agency can evaporate even more quickly.

We’ve been having so many of these conversations lately that we thought we’d compile a list of our best tips for activating your influence when it feels hard.

Last week we completed the final module of our new program for senior leaders of all genders, Playing Bigger. We’ve spent three months with 11 extraordinary people who work in a range of spaces and locations - from Brussels, NZ and right across Australia - exploring systems-based leadership, visibility, vision and storytelling. We loved every minute of it. Though they were diverse, one of the most common traits we saw in these leaders - all of whom were at the top of their game, naturally strategic and focused on bigger-picture impact - was a tendency to underestimate their own potential and influence.

This is reinforced, constantly, in coaching conversations we have with leaders at all levels. 

In the last two weeks we’ve heard these stories:

  • A senior leader who was afraid to tackle the behaviour of one of his peers. Though he could see the toxic effect on staff, who weren’t being recognised for their work and then blamed when things went wrong, our client struggled to know how to approach the conversation with senior leadership.
  • A values-driven executive of a large Australian company who is questioning his ability to step into a CEO role - despite decades of experience and clear ability - because he is a person of colour. He worries he isn’t taken seriously by his peers and the board.

These are six common principles we recommend to help leaders activate their influence - particularly when it feels hard.

1. Be mindful of the stories you tell yourself:

Observe what you’re telling yourself and ask yourself: is this true? Could I reframe this story and get out of my own way?

2. Know your values and live by them:

Drawing on your values in times of challenge can give you clarity on how you might tackle a challenge. If you don’t know your values, speak to us. We have a self-guided or facilitated process we can take you through.

3. Forget confidence; be courageous:

A lack of confidence is the most commonly cited challenge we hear in our programs. But confidence is a unicorn! Choose courage instead.

4. Know who you need to influence and put yourself in their shoes:

Use empathy and put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re trying to bring along - it will help you land your messaging more effectively.

5. Bring a solution, not just the problem:

This one is self-evident, but often forgotten!

6. If you think you have no influence, you have none:

While we normally like to reframe towards the affirmative, putting it this way seems to focus the minds of our clients. It is literally true: when you believe you have no influence you immediately give it away.

If you’d like to explore how to unlock your own potential and influence in new ways, we’re launching our next Playing Bigger program in February 2023. Join a hand-picked, high-calibre group of leaders and think differently about what impact might look like for you. Find out more here.

About Visibility Co.

Working at the intersection of leadership, strategy and visibility, we seek to be strategic provocateurs and catalysts of systemic change, supporting you to unleash the potential within so you can create a better world from wherever you are.

While we’re not big on labels, we’re often referred to as social impact and communications strategists, or strategic leadership advisors, or visibility experts.

Fancy words for a business, led by Julia May and Sarah Anderson, that brings together purposeful leadership, strategy and communications in truly integrative and innovative ways.

Find out more

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