One of the key challenges facing many leaders today — at all levels — is how to influence people more senior than themselves, including their bosses. You have important work to do, and you need their input, their buy-in and support. If you’re good, this work will create many wins; for you, for them and the organisation.
But, somehow, they don’t manage to find the time to see you. Or, you see them favouring other people’s ideas instead of your own. You have clear logic to what you are suggesting, yet somehow they don’t seem to see it, or are more easily influenced by other people. Worse, they could be agreeing with you, yet somehow not following through.
If Influencing Upwards is a challenge for you, these development suggestions will help you on your way, once we’ve looked a little deeper at what could be going on here.
Understanding This Challenge
Many of the following factors could be contributing to your situation…
- They genuinely don’t have time. Or rather, it is not a priority for them!
- Your idea is flawed in some way, and they have yet to find the time to take you through their thinking.
- The timing is not quite right, but again, they don’t have time to tell you.
- Someone else has a better idea.
- They actually disagree with you, and again, they don’t have time to help you understand.
- Another powerful person is exerting political influence to prevent them agreeing with you.
- For personal reasons, they don’t want to support you on this one (or on any one!).
There are a few themes running through these reasons. The two key ones are lack of time and disagreement. On the time front (which is a serious problem in many situations), whatever is going on, they are not allocating the time necessary to hear what you have to say, and/or help you through their concerns. It is likely that they want to spend this time with you, but other things keep getting in the way. Unfortunately, the alternative to this is that they just don’t care enough about your agenda to give it the time.
Disagreement could be genuine, personal or that someone else is able to influence them more effectively at your expense. None of these is uncommon in busy, high-pressure organisations. However, if you analyse it well, you could easily start to find some new approaches which you can take.
The heart of the solution is to increase the priority and get the issue at hand dealt with so that a clear decision can be made, one way, or another.
After considering the ideas above, select the programme resources below which appear to have the most value in helping you to move forward on this challenge.
- Conflicting Agendas. The first place to start is to sit back and consider all of the key agendas which may be affecting the situation. These include personal and organisational. This exercise is a good way of thinking through the various positions people may hold regarding what you are trying to influence. Look at Understanding Conflicting Agendas for an exercise on this.
- Stakeholder Influence Process. Probably the most important element here is focus — what do you want to influence? Then you can map out your stakeholders to see who else you can work with to achieve your goal. Often indirect influence could be the route to unlocking this challenge. Here is an introduction to the Stakeholder Influence Process and also a How To Guide on How to Manage Your Stakeholders.
- Influence Profile. It may that you and the individual you are trying to influence has a different way of behaving when it comes to influence and engagement with others. Make sure and complete your Influence Profile so you know how you prefer to act, then you can move on to the next point to explore what to do (complete profile or view report). You can also take a look at How to Influence with Style for more insight on this topic.
- Influencing Styles. Take a look at your results from the Influence Profile. These sections will help you to explore styles and also to decide how to adapt your behaviour (if appropriate) to become more influential with a given individual. More insight and exercises will be published on the library soon on this topic.
- Compelling Visions. It could well be that you need to approach it in a different way. Building a compelling vision could help you to attract more interest. We cover this in How To Guide: Engage with Your Stakeholders.
- Risks and Opportunities. Although not likely to be a major element of this challenge, you might get some inspiration here for how to position your influence in different ways by collaborating up with others. We will shortly publish some more insight and exercises to show you how to do this.
- Personal Power. Do you have the power to get their attention and achieve the influence you want? Apart from Sources of Personal Power there are many other places in the library where different aspects of power are discussed. This will shortly be combined into a new How To Guide.
- Get real. Perhaps your idea — what you are trying to influence — just isn’t good enough!
- Similarly, you may be right, but the timing is wrong.
- Beware becoming perceived as a moaning loser. Up the ante and decide when you will quit.
- It might be appropriate to consider this lack of attention (particularly from a boss) as a compliment — you are not on their problem list!
- Bosses often remark that their subordinates are being paid to sort out their own problems and to make things happen. They shouldn’t need to manage them. Another compliment?