How To Influence Others To Act

What defines a leader? You have as many definitions as there are people. I would argue that one of the best ways to define a leader is “someone who can influence others to unite for a common goal and get it done”. To be able to influence others you don’t need to be formally in charge. In fact, leaders often emerge through the ranks of employees naturally and are getting more their power formalized only after they showed their leadership abilities.

Some time ago I wrote a set of articles about influence: The Art Of Influencing Others – Lesson 1, Lesson 2, and Lesson 3. I talked about how you can exert influence with people around you and how you can push change that is needed to move your team in a direction that the business requires by working directly with them, through other people and by shaping the physical environment. Today I would like to introduce couple of principles outlined by Chip and Dan Heath in Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck. They present a framework, a set of principles, that when used can greatly enhance your message and help you influence others and change the environment around you. These principles deal only with the message in forms of stories you tell to influence others and extend what I wrote in Lesson 1. The six principles are:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectedness
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotions
  6. Stories

1. Simplicity

You might have heard about the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Originally used in the US Navy the principle states that most systems work best when we keep them as simple as possible (less things to break and easier to fix), so the goal of any design should be removing unnecessary complexity and keeping things as simple as possible.

The same applies to communication. If you want your message to be understood and remembered (leaving impact) you need to work on making it as simple as possible. When you communicate an idea focus on few critical aspects and leave out all the other points that are not critical to your message.

Let’s say you want to explain a difference between a whale and a cat. They are both animals, mammals, one is bigger than the other, one has fur the other doesn’t, one eats mostly plankton, the other eats bunch of stuff including meat, one is being kept as a pet, the other roams free, and so on. But how would you design a message that would be easy to remember? What about, a whale weights 150 tons and lives in the ocean while a five kilograms cat lives in your bedroom.

It is about finding the “core” message and making it really “compact”. Proverbs work like that. You get a key wisdom compressed into a short soundbite that is easy to remember. Just look at these examples:

  • “The pen is mightier than the sword.” (Trying to convince people with words and ideas is often more effective than forcing them to do what you want.)
  • “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” (Very useful advice when you travel or even join a new company with different culture. Observe and learn from others around you to adapt and fit in.)
  • “Easy come, easy go.” (Usually related to money. When you get something without expending much effort you don’t value it and you often lose it quickly.)

The core message, in the army called the Commander’s intent summarizes the goal you are trying to achieve. “Commander’s intent (CSI) plays a central role in military decision making and planning. CSI acts as a basis for staffs and subordinates to develop their own plans and orders to transform thought into action, while maintaining the overall intention of their commander. The commander’s intent links the mission and concept of operations. It describes the end state and key tasks that, along with the mission, are the basis for subordinates’ initiative.”

“We will take the enemy’s position 182 by noon tomorrow”. It is clear and concise enough that it cannot be miscommunicated or misunderstood and can provide enough guidance even for units (teams) that become suddenly cut from their chain of command (management).

2. Unexpectedness

It is not just simplicity that will help you to get the message across to your audience and influence the right outcome. Before you can even attempt this you need to get attention of the people you want to influence. How do you do it? By violating people’s expectations. By doing or saying something unexpected or even counterintuitive. Humans are curious by nature so making people curious about where you are heading with your message is a powerful tool. Just think about why so many people love detective stories and will stick with the book or movie to the very end to learn who’s done it.

Within the professional circles a great way to pick up an interest and make people curious is to highlight the knowledge gap. Start with something that people have general understanding of and interest in and make it clear that they don’t know the whole story and there is some interesting fact coming up. “You all know that we had a good year but you would be surprised on how much we actually grew. Before I get to the numbers let me remind you some of the key successes that got us here.” Now, if you are at least little big curious human being you will listen with interest and to wait till the end to learn the actual numbers.

3. Concreteness

Abstract ideas are really difficult to get across and to be remembered. If you want your message to stick you need to make it as concrete as possible. Let’s look again at proverbs. Just compare these two statements both describing the same concept. First being very literary but too abstract “People from different cultures, different educational background, different positions and wealth may have different priorities and ideas about what is valuable and what not.” The other being a proverb making the abstract idea very tangible and concrete “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Which one will you remember?

Curiously enough talking about numbers may not make the message concrete enough but, in fact, the opposite. “We have spent one thousand dollars on snacks for the office this year.” What does it tell you? Yes, you know it was thousand dollars but what exactly does it mean? Compare it to “The team consumed a thousand chocolate bars this year. That is a hundred for each of you.” In this case the dollar value even though correct and precise is less tangible than the actual number of chocolate bars in your hand.

4. Credibility

People won’t believe a message unless they feel it comes from a credible source and sounds sort of credible. Let’s say that two people come to you and make this announcement “orange juice is really bad to your health”. One would be a medical doctor in white while the other is an accountant from your company. Who would you believe more readily? You would of course make bunch of assumptions about the guy in white. He is a doctor, studied for it, practices the craft, follows the latest research, and knows what he is talking about. You would follow his advice rather than the pale guy from finance department. You would again make an assumption. What does an accountant know about health and oranges?

There is the same danger as in previous principle. Most of us see hard numbers as a proof that you know what you are talking about, that you did your research and have your facts straight. However, there is still the danger of losing the message in numbers that are too abstract for others to follow or remember.

5. Emotions

You might think that emotions have no place in business but you couldn’t be more wrong when it comes to leadership. You just need to use emotions strategically. How do you ensure others care about you and your idea? Well, caring means feeling something. Why do you think so many politicians start hugging children before an election day? They are trying to show that they care. But how do you show that you care about a nation? That is a too abstract concept, rather you hug a single child which will symbolize that you care about everyone. For people it is easier to feel something when it gets very specific, a single cute child, rather than a nation.

This tactics works very well in many charitable endeavors. Hearing about thousands dead in some conflict or natural disaster is too difficult to grasp and it doesn’t have the same emotional impact (it is just a statistics) as a picture of a single child crying over his dead mother. This will immediately trigger emotions since you can picture yourself in the same position and it will immediately move you into an action. Something must be done!

There are also many other ways how to involve emotions in pushing your message. In the professional world there are couple of tactics that often work. You can appeal to self-interest of your audience or even better to their identity. Let’s say you talk with your management team and you need to eliminate a habit of people changing their minds all the time that is spreading through the company and makes it an environment full of uncertainty. The message you may want to go with would be along the lines “great managers stand by their decisions”. The emotion you would play at is the fact that all your managers believe that they are great managers and would feel offended that someone would think otherwise. Because of that emotion they would start paying more attention to this behavior and get better at it.

6. Stories

The best way to get people not only hear the message but to act on it is a combination of invoking emotion while telling a compelling story. Hearing a story helps people visualize the action and the ultimate outcome. This then leads to reducing worry that they don’t know what to do or that things may not go as planned. This type of story will help people to understand how to act. Imagine you are in a technical support department. Every customer who call will have a slightly different problem, will explain it in a different way, will have a different environment or the way to use your product. But the underlying technology is the same and these problems often have lots in common. By regularly talking with your fellow support engineers and exchanging stories about what problem customers had and how you solved it will help the whole group to learn from each other in a way that is very natural. You can influence the quality of work your colleagues and you provide just by telling stories.

The other type of story you may employ is a story to energize the team, to explain why to act. For a story to be truly inspiring it should be somehow relevant and relatable to the audience. This is often used in mentoring discussions when more experienced mentor tells a story about how he dealt with a difficult situation and succeeded to inspire his mentee to get the courage and deal with the problem at hand. Real leaders would also use the inspiring stories to rally the forces to march towards the same vision. They will create in your head a picture of the outcome that makes you excited to follow them.

So how does it all come together?

Regardless of your formal position you can have a huge impact if you learn to communicate the way that will touch both the hearts and minds of those you want to convince. You can use this framework during one on one conversations, in your writing or in big public presentations. The key is to understand who your audience is and to tweak the message accordingly. You also need to realize that it is not just the message but also the messenger who counts. Even the best message delivered by a leader who has no credibility, who regularly misleads his followers, or who is known to say one thing and do the other will not have the desired effect.

 

What are your thoughts on how to influence others? What do you do when asked to present an important proposal to get approval, push through some idea, or when marshalling your team to perform a task they are not too keen on?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

The Art Of Influencing Others – Lesson 3

In the previous posts Lesson 1 and Lesson 2, I talked about how you can exert influence on people around you and how you can push change that is needed to move your team in a direction that the business requires. Today I will talk about how you can influence people without even talking to them. Focus on the physical environment.

Shape the environment, shape the people

We are all getting influenced by the environment around us. DNA gave us the basics of who we are but since our births there were people and circumstances in our lives who shaped us into the people we are today. This means that if you manage to surround yourself by supporting environment you can grow faster and in the desired direction than if you stayed in environment that holds you back. And the same obviously applies to your team.

The impact of environment is often very subtle but still can influence our behavior quite significantly. If you sit in a room with ten other people who are totally focused on their work, chances are you will succumb to the pressure of environment and will also work. If you are eating alone from a big plate with no frame of reference you will gobble up significantly more unhealthy food than if you go to a restaurant with couple of vegetarian friends who eat very healthy. If you go to a local library with quiet atmosphere where people sit reading you will immediately tone down your voice. Simply put, the environment has huge impact on the way we behave and that means huge opportunity to use it in influencing others.

Take the choice away

In my previous post I talked about how important it is to give people a choice. Choice to act or not to act, choice to take the path they consider the best, choice to select the appropriate means and choice to shape their own future. However when it comes to environment you are creating around the people it is best to take the choice away. To influence vital behaviors you have higher chance of succeeding if you create physical environment where people don’t have a choice but to follow the desired behavior.

Having too many choices will generally work against you when pushing a change. To illustrate just think about this scenario. If you want your family to have a healthy lives you do best to remove from the house anything that goes against that goal and limit the choice of the hungry kids to pick between and apple and an orange, rather than apple, orange and chocolate bar.

Distance matters

The quality and number of relationships is directly tight to the physical distance of both parties and frequency of communication. The boss who sits in the middle of the team and interacts on daily basis is more likely to be able to influence the team much more than someone who sits remote and interacts once a week over the phone.

As I mentioned in Physical Distance In Management Matters it is nearly impossible to manage teams remotely and one of the main reasons is that you are giving up a great deal of influence if you remove yourself from the environment where your team lives and works. Your mere physical presence can help tremendously in shaping the team and the culture in a way that is desirable for the long-term success.

If you really need to inflict some change on remote team you want to consider a herald, or change agent, someone from the remote team who will buy into your premise and who has enough social capital and experience to help you locally to get the message across and to be your mini-me on the ground. Relying completely only on phone and remote access will most likely mean a failure in achieving any lasting change.

 

When you are building the team and want to push the company values to the heads of new employees do you consider the environment they will work in? Does it reinforce the message or goes against it?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

The Art Of Influencing Others – Lesson 2

What do you do with people who have fixed mindset? Who are rooted in their ways and because they believe they cannot achieve something or that they cannot change, they will not even try? And even if they try they don’t believe in success so they create this self-fulfilling prophesy?

In the first lesson I started to talk about the ways to influence people around you and help them change their behavior. To follow up on the topic I would like to bring your attention to the work done by Kerry Patterson and her team in the “Influencer: The Power to Change Anything”. In this book we are introduced to the six sources of influence: Personal Motivation, Personal Ability, Social Motivation, Social Ability, Structural Motivation, and Structural Ability.

Patterson and her team argue (and provide an evidence) that the truly successful influencers use multiple strategies how to influence people and institute lasting changes. If you want to shape the world around you focus not just on the individual you want to help and his motivation and ability but consider the social and physical environment this individual lives in. I will not run through the six sources of influence, for that you can read the book, but I will talk about some of the points that I find most important.

You cannot motivate people

In How Can You Motivate Others? You Can’t! I talked about how impossible it is to motivate someone. What you can do however is to create an environment, processes and social structures that will help to engage the employee. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi who coined the term “flow” and spend his life trying to figure out what does it take to enjoy something, discovered that almost anything can be enjoyable as long as it can have challenging goals and frequent feedback. We would call it today “gamification”.

If you ever watched a soccer match or other sports that are for their participants in its core hard, until you add a scoreboard to provide feedback, you know what I’m talking about. Something that is in its core meaningless can be turned into something people enjoy playing and watching just by providing frequent feedback and clear goal to be better than the other guy.

Give people a choice

To be able to influence people you need to approach them as human beings and not as a number in a spreadsheet. This happens a lot in the corporate world when decisions about lives of others are done through “dehumanizing” them and talking about numbers and not actual names. “I don’t need these two resources on my project anymore,” is easier to say than “I don’t need Peter and Paul.” However, by doing this you are also giving up, part of your motivation to care about what happens to them, and ultimately you are giving up your influence and ability to change the situation.

By nature, we have an internal desire to do what is right. Unless we are sociopaths our value system is usually a very good compass to guide us through life in a socially acceptable behavior. We are able to make great sacrifices and do the right thing if we can chose to do so. Choice is a very powerful tool when influencing others. But choice means that you deal with people and not resources.

Influence the influencers

When trying to create a large scale change you need help. You need to influence first people who will then help you push the change to the rest of the organization. You don’t want to focus you influencing efforts on the geeky innovators since even though they may embrace it they don’t have the social influence to spread the adoption. You also don’t want to waste too much time to going alone against the vast majority of people who are resistant to change.

Where you want to focus is on group you may call the early adopters. These are the people with open minds who are willing to consider change and who are also well connected with their environment. These are the opinion leaders. If you get these on your side, the task will become much easier. Simply put, it is not just the message you are communicating but it is also how and most importantly who communicates.

If you have a team of hundred people it should be enough to find five to ten influencers (formal and informal leaders) who should you work with to get them on board and then let them influence the rest of the team. They are the ones who are engaged, opinionated, well connected and respected. What happens when you ignore them? They will still have opinions and they will still influence others, that is what they do, but they won’t be on your side.

Are you an opinion leader?

To be seen as a leader and influencer in your field you need to have couple of basic qualities. You need to have the domain knowledge and you need to be trustworthy. With these attributes and a bit of enthusiasm and confidence you have a high chance of significantly influence the people around you. The funny thing is you will do it whether you want it or not. If people see you are enthusiastic about something you have a good knowledge of, and they trust your judgment, chances are they will follow your lead even against your will.

 

Do you know who the opinion leaders on your team are? If not, how would you recognize them? And if yes, how do you work with them to push change when needed?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

The Art Of Influencing Others – Lesson 1

Would you describe yourself as able to influence events around you? If yes, how do you do it? And if not, why not? We go through our lives and exert influence on everything and everyone around us. However, how much influence each of us has depends on the effort we put into it and means we use. In fact, most people would very rarely put in the effort to make a significant change and be truly influential. In most situations it is easier to invent ways how to cope with something we don’t like rather than to influence the environment in a way that things change.

You can’t change how people behave

The one sentence you hear pretty often when talking with managers is “you can’t change people”. And indeed if you like to drink and I come to you and tell you “you shouldn’t drink, please stop,” things will not change. And if I repeat it often enough you may start drinking even more just to spite me. For me to be able to influence you and help you to deal with your drinking problem I need to change not what you do, but what you think. And that one, even though it sounds even more difficult, is definitely doable. In fact, one can argue that politicians, media, or your kids are doing it all the time.

Understand the big picture

To be able to change someone’s behavior you need to see things in perspective, see the complete picture, and answer the basic question of “why”. People behave in a certain way for a reason, find the reason and you have a good basis of tackling it, changing what they think about the situation and how they react to it.

But it doesn’t end here. Answering “why” is just the first step. The second one is to figure out answer to even more important question: “What must people do differently to change the status quo?” The key is to find the root cause, the critical behavior that creates the current situation and then focus on that single behavior and reasons leading to it to make a lasting change.

It is in the mind

We tend to decide what our behavior should be based on what we believe the consequences will be. If I see a mad dog on the street I will turn around and take a different road as I believe he would bite me and that would be bad. If I see the same mad dog surrounded by couple of people who don’t mind he is there I will probably continue straight on and pass just next to him. My behavior is dictated by this causality effect in my head and since everything in my mind is imagined it can be influenced and changed.

To be able to influence someone’s behavior you need to ensure they can positively answer two simple questions: “Why should I?” and “Can I?” They need to understand what is the benefit for them to change the way they behave and they must believe that they are capable of this change. If they don’t see the reason or don’t think they are capable of doing what you propose then they will not even try.

Forget about words

If you believe you can talk someone into changing their behavior you will most likely fail. Verbal persuasion is more often than not seen as patronizing or even an attack and may end up in exactly the opposite reaction. The best way to make someone to change their behavior is through experience. Personal experience helps in redefining the causality pathways in your mind. If you have a drinking problem because you are stressed out from work and you believe a bottle of whiskey is the best way to relax I can show you that swimming few laps can achieve the same results. Me talking about it or even showing you will not help, you need to get to the pool and try it for yourself. Then there is a chance to change your mind.

If you need to use words, use stories

If you don’t have an easy way to let the person you want to influence experience the world as you experience it and words are the only means at your disposal then use them wisely. Don’t give advice, don’t try to be the guy who should be listened to, but rather tell a realistic story. The story you tell needs to be easily visualized by the person in question. He needs to be able to relate to it, the hero of the story needs to be someone he knows or he could know and the outcome must be something that could easily happen also to him. Vivid stories will transport the person from the role of a listener to the role of a participant and can have a profound and lasting effect.

Should the story be gloomy or positive? Should you focus on the negative outcome of undesired behavior or rather offer a positive message that will lead to a changed behavior and positive solution? You may want to talk about the negative outcome, but you must talk about the positive one. Remember, you need to let people know why they should change but also that they can do it. For more thoughts on story telling you can check Mentoring By Telling Stories.

 

How do you influence people around you? Are you acting subconsciously or do you have an agenda in mind? For lots of good ideas on influence I suggest you read Influencer: The Power to Change Anything by Kerry Patterson and team.

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Physical Distance In Management Matters

Management of geographically distributed teams can be sometimes pretty tough. In fact, one doesn’t need to sit on the opposite sides of the world to be distant from the team. Even sitting at the other side of the floor can have a huge impact on the way how you work with your team and what sort of impact you may have.

Simply put, distance matters. The quality and number of relationships is directly tight to the physical distance of you and the team, and to frequency and means of communication. The boss who sits on the floor in the middle of the team and interacts on daily basis is more likely to be able to influence than someone who sits remote and interacts once a week over the phone.

Why distance matters?

There are five key areas of management that are directly influenced by distance. Yes, I’m sure you can come up with many more but I feel that these are important both from short-term enabling of the team as well as from long-term sustainability perspective.

  • Speed – if your business requires a quick response times, you have customers distributed all around the world and teams that are composed of people sitting on different continents you are inevitably faced with slower response times. Even a simple exchange of emails will drag for days. The trick is to utilize the technology at hand (phones, video conferencing, instant messages, etc.) and what is more important always pick the right one for the particular occasion. Just check this article 7 Reasons To Pick Up The Phone.
  • Culture – how do you ensure that your team lives and breathes the same values? If you work with people from different countries and cultures it is not an easy undertaking. In fact you will struggle to build a strong culture even when everyone sit in the same office. When you work with remote team the local culture will be always more prominent than the fuzzy corporate one, unless you give it the attention it deserves. The solution here is to constantly bring the company culture into any developmental conversation and every decision you make while being aware of the potential clashes coming from the local culture of that particular team.
  • Morale – how do you ensure that your remote team is motivated? Pretty much the same way the local ones. You need to create an environment that is conductive to self-motivating teams. The way to do this is to have a constant and never ending feedback loop between you and the team. Keeping your finger on the pulse of the remote team is way more difficult than seeing it in your own office since you are not part of the discussions around the remote water cooler. What about creating a virtual one?
  • Growth – how do you develop and grow your remote team? And I’m not talking about the numbers (even though hiring remotely also have its drawbacks) but rather about providing feedback, teaching, coaching and mentoring your remote team. Figuring out what they need and then helping them to achieve the developmental objectives is one of the most difficult aspects. I would even say that unless you have a team of mature adults who understand that their development is in their hands there is no realistic way you can develop them in a fast and consistent manner.
  • Influence – how do you influence the remote team? What if something doesn’t go as expected? How do you provide the necessary course corrections? From my experience with managing remote teams and being managed remotely I would claim that there is nothing the remote manager (even if direct boss) can do if the team decides that it is not the best idea. Influencing a team in remote location is even more difficult than influencing a team of people who don’t report to you but still sit in the same office. To be able to successfully influence behavior of others you need to be able to work with them, the people around them, understand and be able to change the environment, and influence the informal social circles. Not easy sitting at the opposite side of the globe.

Another cubicle

So what are the lessons learned for managing teams in the same location? Start with the space. You need to build the office in such a way that you are close to the people you are supposed to manage. You should always fight for having the team that needs to work closely together and sitting together. If your team consists of people from different functions or departments then you should ensure they either sit together or at least facilitate lots of formal and informal opportunities for these people to meet, build rapport, build trust, and communicate and work towards the same goal.

And you need to be part of the team. Sitting in a cozy corner office will be the same as sitting in another city. Your approachability will diminish and even my favorite Management By Walking Around Reinvented may not always provide you and the team with what they need.

Another city

Another dimension of complexity. You really cannot sit with the team in the same office, you cannot walk around every day, but you can be in constant communication. Let’s be happy for technology. I know of teams that dial a phone (or open a skype connection) in the morning and have the constant ability to hear what’s going on not just at the table next to them but at the table hundreds of miles away.

This may be a stretch and not always practical but you should strive to get as close to it as possible. Even a team chat where you regularly exchange instant messages is a good start. Hopefully you are also able to frequently travel to the other city to have face to face discussions with the team and to provide developmental feedback and course corrections to remind everyone the common goals and shared values of the team.

Another continent

This is the ultimate test. The added complexity is called time zones. You may have team distributed in so many locations that there is zero overlap of these. The only advice I can give you here is: don’t. When building your teams make sure that you have at least couple of hours a day of overlap when everyone is in the office and can communicate, solve issues, and set directions. I used to manage a virtual team of about fifty people from more than twenty companies distributed over Americas, Europe, Middle East, Asia and Australia and there was no realistic way for us to meet, no way to have informal discussion around water cooler, no way to have regular 1on1 discussions. The only thing that worked and worked very well was weekly follow-up conferences at rotating times (so every week someone else was inconvenienced to wake up at 2am for the call).

This worked for single reason. All the people in the team were senior professionals who didn’t need any direction to do their job and I was not responsible for their professional development. I wasn’t managing them, I was managing the process. I strongly believe that if you are asked to manage remote team you need a strong local manager or leader who will do your bidding on-site. You can provide directions and vision but it will be she who will provide the actual management and leadership resource for the team. What are the attributes and characteristics of this individual is a topic for another time.

The message you should take away is that “you cannot manage people remotely”. As I wrote in You Manage Things, You Lead People you shouldn’t try to manage people even locally but with distance the complexity increases geometrically. And if you have team in the same building where you sit, remember that being at different floor or in the corner office may be almost the same as sitting in another city.

 

What is the impact of physical distance on your organization? How do you ensure you are mentally close to the team when in fact you are physically far?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Grow Up! And Live Your Own Life

Heroes. Most of us have in our live some heroes or people we look up to. Most of us get inspired by our idols. We try to do a lot of things to be like that person. But why do we do that? Why not to be ourselves and aspire to be the best “us” we can? Over the years in various management roles I have often adopted behavior of more experienced managers because I admired the way they dealt with certain situation only to discover that their approach simply didn’t work for me. Over the years I have seen people who focused so much on competing with others that they forgot to focus on themselves.

Focus on yourself, not others

Your boss has decided to quit. There is you and several of your peers who used to report to this person and it is obvious that one of you gets promoted to that job. So what would you do? Sadly, many people would focus more on others than on themselves. They would start seeing that Richard is friend with the former boss so he is probably closest to the promotion, they would see that Maria just got this new responsibility a month ago and without a good reason Peter is being often approach by senior managers when they need help. If you follow this train of thought you find yourself blaming others for your own shortcomings an feeling that life is unfair since others are getting all the breaks. Is this healthy? How exactly will thoughts like these help you to get to the next level? That is how five years old kid would behave and let’s face it, who would promote that kid to a leadership role?

The best thing you can do is to forget about the others and rather focus on what you can do and how you can improve. You should still strive to do your job to the best of your abilities and volunteer to take on some of the responsibilities of your boss. The trick here is where to focus. Do you rather focus on things that are highly visible to the management or on things that are more important for the daily survival of the organization? This decision really depends on company culture, on the way how the organization is set up, and on your priorities and goals in this life.

Focus on what you can influence

We all have so many things to do, so where do we spend our energy? There are two quotes that always guided my professional life and that I tried to impart on my team. “Pick your battles carefully,” and “focus on things you can influence.”

Yes, there are many things in this world and your job that would deserve your attention and that you could improve. There are many things that you can fight for. But is it worth it? If you decide to push for an idea or project that doesn’t have a wide support within the organization always consider whether it is worth the effort, what are the chances of success and what you will be giving up when you put your attention there.

If you are someone who is always complaining, always unhappy and always trying to fight everything, chances are you will stop being taken seriously. Don’t complain, if there is something that needs to be fixed, just jump in and fix it. And if it is something that is not under your control and there is no way you can fix it then just learn to live with it and focus your attention on things you can fix. If your standard mode of operation is being very cooperative, positive, and able to compromise then when there is something that really matters to you others will see your passion and your resolve and will get out of your way or even better will help you to achieve it.

Combine the best of both worlds

It is good to have in your life someone who guides you and acts as an inspirational idol. Just make sure you don’t mimic this person too much. Remember who you are and if you want to adopt something from his or her behavior make sure it is aligned with your own personality so you will still be you. Some of the key leadership traits are authenticity and consistency. If others believe that you are trying to be someone you are not, they will not follow. So when you decide to integrate a new skill or new way how to deal with situations you need to do it in a way that is natural to your own personality. For example, I may consider people like Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Marc Benioff (Salesforce) great leaders and admire their public performance and ability to rally forces to get things done. However, if I would decide to mimic their heavily extroverted behavior I would fail as my team would most likely say “What’s wrong with Tomas, this is not him. What is he trying to pull here?” So instead of trying to be like these two guys I will try hard to be myself and over the time, step by step, incorporate some of the traits I admire on them. That way I will give myself enough time to develop the new skill and be still myself.

Twitter type summary: “Stop trying to be someone else. Be who you are, pick your fights, focus on what you can influence and you will have a fulfilling life.”

What about you? Do you have someone in your life you admire and learn from?