A lot of my work is with technically brilliant people who now have to influence people to do things (aka leadership and business development/sales!). In a recent engagement with managers from an amazingly successful and respected professional firm, I listened to a group of rising leaders talk about how they tried to influence the associates beneath them in the firm.

Many times it goes well. But sometimes it goes poorly. And when it goes poorly, it seems to often follow this basic pattern:

  • I tell people what to do
  • They don’t do it (or don’t do it as well/quickly/efficiently as I’d like)
  • I put more structure to it and tell them to do it again – more LOUDLY this time
  • They still don’t meet my standards
  • I get frustrated, blame them, and eventually give up and do it myself!

These managers are very bright people. And they’re usually trying to get from point A to point B in the most direct route (i.e. telling people what to do!). This is because they’re busy trying to meet demands of clients and colleagues, not because they woke up and wanted to be jerks that day.

As I think about this, it seems like these ambitious managers think leadership is something you do to people. One profound thing about leadership (which is essentially influence) is that it must be two-way for it to work. If you are always on send mode, those you are trying to influence will simply switch you off.

So this leads to my core question: When is the long way around the fastest way home? And what have you tried to make influence with those you lead a two-way street?