Influence: you can give it, but can you take it?

Effective leaders not only influence others, but are also open to being influenced. ~Ann Van Eron

Photo by Elijah Macleod on Unsplash

Recently, while teaching about creating team protocols for better collaboration, I was reminded of a question that felt personal. Am I willing to listen and to be influenced?

One of the collaborative protocols that I was describing was that everyone would agree to “pay attention to their own intentions.” That would include asking yourself questions. What am I/we trying to achieve by this conversation? What is on my mind? Am I willing to listen and to be influenced?

That last question is the one that really gets me, personally. Yes, I’m willing to listen, but, willing to be influenced? Honestly, not always. If we’re talking about processes, systems, etc., yes, most of the time I am willing to be influenced. If we’re talking about something more personal, like my worldview, I have to dig deep to find the willingness to be influenced.

I suppose in some regards that’s not all bad. After all, anyone’s worldview should be something that guides their decisions and their priorities. However, last time I checked, no one has all of the answers. There is room for growth in every single individual. So how do we simultaneously hold a worldview tight enough to guide our decisions and loose enough to be open to influence?

Watch for confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of our existing beliefs or theories. We’re human, we like to think we are open to being influenced when we are really attempting to confirm what we believe. Unfortunately, as Carl Haefling stated in his blog post, “confirmation bias can be our worst enemy because it allows us to demonize those who are different.”

Identify your assumptions as assumptions.

We tend to err on the side of believing many of our assumptions are really facts. But, if we pause, take step back and really examine our “facts” we might be surprised how much we are really assuming. So, call a spade a spade and identify your assumptions as assumptions.

Balance advocacy and inquiry.

We need to approach conversations with the intention to balance advocating for our position with inquiring through questions. If we are only stating our view, and not asking questions, we are not only limiting our understanding, we are also reflecting our unwillingness to be influenced.

Lead with bold grace and strive to simultaneously hold a worldview tight enough to guide our decisions and loose enough to be open to influence.

As Ralph Marston said, “Let go of your attachment to being right, and suddenly your mind is more open. You’re able to benefit from the unique viewpoints of others, without being crippled by your own judgment.”

The Deep Consequence of Our Interactions

Ephemeral moments emerge as we interact. These moments take on deep consequence as through their sum total, we create one another. ~Daniel Goleman

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

Interactions. I’ve scoured my memory and I cannot recall any education from K-12 through college and grad school that taught the basics of effective human interaction or social intelligence. How are we supposed to develop these skills? Left up to parents? It’s the most critical skill needed and yet we have little to no opportunity to develop these skills?

When I read the quote from Daniel Goleman, specifically the idea that through the moments of our interactions sum total we create one another, I was taken aback. I was startled by the thought that we are creating one another. Our current collective ability to engage in effective interaction is not exactly something to model.

While the various divisions in our country have highlighted our inability to interact effectively, those same challenges find their way into organizations. And worse, it’s through these tension-filled and compassionless interactions that we are creating one another.

Where to start?

I suggest we start with both practicing and teaching listening skills. I’ve found that people who believe they are good listeners are many times making suggestions and solving others’ problems. That’s not listening.

This month I’ve been facilitating a series of webinars called The Coach Approach. Part of the learning has been to understand and practice the coaching process. It’s three very basic steps. (1) Ask questions. (2) Listen. (3) Invite. To do this well, it requires a fair amount of empathetic and compassionate behavior. That always proves to be more challenging than the participants anticipate.

I ask for volunteers to coach and to be coached. The coachee presents a very basic problem/situation. Then the coach starts asking questions. Those questions tend to be “questions” that start with Have you tried…  In other words, we jump right in with making suggestions dressed up like questions. We think we’re “listening,” but we’re really telling them how we think they should solve their problem.

Stephen R. Covey said, ”Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Shift Our Interactions

Imagine for a moment, this simple adjustment. Interactions that shift from the need to win, to be right, or to solve someone else’s problem. To interactions that are focused on curiosity, exploring ideas, and understanding a perspective different from our own. In other words, listening.

We are all dealing with higher levels of stress caused by uncertainties of employment, finances, and health. Tensions from differing views on race, masks, and political perspectives punctuate our days. Not to mention the added strain that has surfaced due to staying at home far more than we’d prefer.

Despite all of that, we can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s through the sum total of our interactions that we are creating one another. Our interactions have a deep consequence. What do you want that consequence to be? What if our interactions reflected bold grace?

One Word That Will Change Your Leadership

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. ~Aristotle

As I stated in my last post, emotional intelligence actually decreases as people rise through the ranks in organizations. Related to this, I read a statistic last week that has stuck in mind: 95 percent of people believe that they’re self-aware, but only about 10 to 15 percent really are. I want to give you one word that could help you move to the 10 to 15 percent.

One tool that we can all use to become more self-aware is introspection. Many leaders take time for introspection, but are they doing it effectively? Are they asking themselves the right questions?

A typical introspective question is to ask yourself, “why?” These questions can be related to our emotions. Such as, why do I dread my one-on-one meetings with employee X? The questions may be related to our behavior. Why do I get so impatient during our team meetings? Or, maybe it’s a certain attitude. Why am I so against the strategy my colleague is suggesting?

What’s wrong with asking why?

First, it puts us in a frame of mind to identify how confident we are that we are right.

Second, it simply invites unproductive negative thoughts. It puts us in the mindset to defend, instead of to learn.

The better question to ask yourself?

Simply replace why questions with what questions. When hundreds of pages of research interview transcripts with higher self-aware people were analyzed, a pattern emerged. While the word why appeared fewer than 150 times, the word what appeared more than 1,000 times.

What questions help us to stay objective, look to the future, and be empowered to take action on our learning.


You may ask yourself, “Why do I feel so frustrated?” Change that question to: “What are the situations when I feel frustrated and what do they have in common?” See what you can learn from the patterns you uncover.

Maybe you received some negative feedback and your instinct might be to ask, “Why did they say this about me?” Replace why with what and ask, “What are the steps I need to take in the future so my intentions are understood?” Be more solution oriented and less critical of past perceptions.

Asking what questions means we are willing to learn; we are leading from a growth mindset. It means we are willing to acknowledge that we don’t know everything, even about ourselves. It means leading with bold grace.

Do you know your own dominance?

For the title of director and above, [emotional intelligence] scores descend faster than a snowboarder on a black diamond. CEOs, on average, have the lowest EQ scores in the workplace. ~Travis Bradberry

Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

This week I’ve read a number of social media posts that are of a similar theme. I’ve seen these posts before. However, I would have thought (or hoped) with the intensity of recent events that some of these individuals, who I know personally, would not take such a definitive stance.

The perspective in these posts is a refute to white privilege with statements like “I’m white and I had to work really hard to get where I’m at.” When I hear or read statements like that, I can’t help but think, that is really missing the point. And it’s exactly because you are a part of the dominant group that you can’t see what privileges you really have, or that in fact, you are exerting your dominance.

How dominance can go unrecognized.

Here’s an analogy. Years ago I moderated many focus groups using a traditional focus group set-up with the participants in one room and the client in another room viewing through a one-way mirror. The participants would speak their minds, knowing that the client was on the other side of the window, but because they couldn’t see or hear them (no interaction allowed), the participants said exactly what they thought without holding back. They were intentionally put in a position of dominance.

In a similar way, we are also put in positions of dominance, even without our choosing. It may be our upbringing, our gender, the color of our skin, or even our job title. It may be nothing we did, but simply the position we hold that causes us to have dominance.

I see this played out in organizations every day with job titles. Travis Bradberry describes it this way. “Once leaders get promoted, they enter an environment that tends to erode their emotional intelligence. They spend less time in meaningful interactions with their staff and lose sight of how their emotional states affect those around them. It’s so easy to get out of touch that leaders’ EQ levels sink further.”

Seeing our own dominance and lack of EQ is hard work.

One way to avoid playing the role of the emperor with no clothes when it comes to dominance and EQ is to intentionally spend time in meaningful interactions with those who are different from you. That may be people of different backgrounds, upbringing, etc. For organizational leaders, that will also mean stepping away from your computer, getting out of the C-Suite, and having truly meaningful interactions with employees at all levels in the organization.

Like my focus group participants, it’s easy to play the dominant role when there are no meaningful interactions with someone in a different role. And if there are no meaningful interactions, you will be unaware of the dominance you wield.

Where are you dominant, really? How can you have meaningful interactions with those people? Meaningful interactions with people different from yourself is another way to lead with bold grace.

3 Steps to Lasting Change

Telling someone to change without helping them to change their environment rarely leads to success. ~Kerry Goyette

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

I’ve been wearing a Fitbit, every day, for the past three years. Why? Because I wanted to change to a more consistent exercise routine. Simply wanting to change my routine wasn’t enough. I needed to change my environment. For me, wearing a Fitbit has done the trick. I continue to wear it even after three years because without it, I’ll be back in my old environment and may then slip back into my old ways. I need that new environment to change and to maintain my new behavior.

Exercise and diet are two personal examples of behavior change that nearly everyone has attempted at some point. The basic behavioral factors that help us to make these changes are the same behavioral factors that help us change our attitude at work, relationships with colleagues, productivity, and our ability to lead more effectively.

We need to find ways to change environmental factors that trigger unwanted tendencies. Note the choice of words here, unwanted tendencies. I’m not talking about completely losing your cool and yelling at team members. (Although that is certainly an issue that should be addressed.) I’m talking about some of the subtle tendencies. Changes in even relatively small habits that can make a big difference. Kerry Goyette suggests three steps to lasting change.

3 Steps to Lasting Change

1) Identify the problem. It begins with self-recognition.

We need to become aware of when we are engaging in counterproductive behavior. When X happens, I tend to say or do Y. Unfortunately, this recognition typically happens when team members, subordinates, or staff survey results are raising concern or frustration. This may require an intervention or one-on-one coaching.

2) The impact of the problem, or social recognition.

When I say or do Y, that leads to _____ (negative impact on others, both individuals and groups or teams). Once you’ve owned the problem, through feedback you can begin to unpack how this behavior is impacting others.

3) Create environmental checkpoints to support the desired change, or design a new structure.

What can I change in the environment so when X happens in the future I will say or do Z instead of Y. Change is hard. I would argue that subtle changes are even harder because they are habits; things we do without even thinking.

What can we change in our environment that causes us to pause, and think, before we act? This could involve tracking our behavior in writing—when X happened today, what we did, and the result. For some, seeing metrics is what they need to change. For others, maybe it’s simply using a new phrase to begin their comments so they speak up more frequently in meetings. We can all benefit from continuously examining our behavior and identifying subtle adjustments that can make a significant difference. It’s all part of leading with bold grace.