Like everyone else, I feel like sometimes I do a brilliant job, mostly I’m pretty good, and occasionally I’m plain lousy. But it never ceases to amaze me how, when I’m in control/in the zone/in the moment, how easily I can improve my own performance. And how I can get the best out of other people. Here’s an example.
I run the member services and learning event division of Henley Business School. We are always looking for new speakers to lead our events. And this week I met a really interesting one but, if I’d judged him on the first few minutes of our conversation, we wouldn’t be working together. First impressions were OK, but I was struggling to see how he would fit with what I do. It took quite a while before we made a connection and found an event angle he’s gone away to turn into a programme. And it’s going to be #distinctive and different, and I’m excited already!
Here were my learnings from this example. They are all about “finding the fabulous”.
- Accept that it’s your job to get the best from people. You’ve failed if you don’t, and life is so much more rewarding when you do.
- Ignore your first impressions, at least sometimes. Test whether you are right, by giving people the time to show their #value.
- Suspend disbelief (meaning putting aside your doubt or skepticism) for long enough to hear out someone’s story. Because eventually you’ll find a connection. And connected people create great ideas.
Maybe I’m smugly saying I did a great job with this guy. Or maybe he worked on me, until we found that great idea. I don’t know. And I don’t care. Either way we’re on to something. And it’s so motivating when you end up finding the fabulous. You wake up smiling at 05.00, and have to blog about it. And, for me, that’s a wonderful start to the day.
I have a strange routine on my daily commute to work. It’s a proper yin and yang – listening to The Today Programme @BBCr4today in the morning, and choosing from my pretty big collection of pop music CDs for the winding and country drive home in the evening (yes, I still listen to CDs. It’s not because I’m low-tech. They sound better than MP3s!)
So I spend some time singing pop songs at the top of my voice, and then the rest reflecting on really powerful journalism and thoughtful business stories. And something on Radio 4 made me think, and then apply the principles to my day job. It’s about the rise of “soft power”.
Joseph S. Nye (diplomat, political scientist and Professor at Harvard) coined the phrase ‘soft power’ in 1990. Broadly it means promoting positive perceptions of a country’s interests and identity overseas. It’s used to describe the way a country like China is changing the way it influences the world in general. For example, helping the world see a nation’s point of view makes the media king. China is allowing more radio and TV channels (e.g. China Radio International and including those transmitting in foreign-languages) to broadcast regionally and nationally.
If some of the most dominant nations in the world are seeing that a different approach is needed, then we all need to take note. This is about a recognition that:
- the past allowed CONTROL over people and companies, but
- the future requires the INFLUENCE of society and business.
And that takes me nicely to the point about leadership and leaders. The #value of a leader used to be derived from their ability to control. In today’s much more complex world, leaders can’t even hope to control everything. So the future #value of a leader will come from something very different – their ability to influence the behaviour of others.
If anyone else is feeling a bit skeptical, thinking that this kind of influence is just an “iron fist in a velvet glove” (meaning it is still control, but disguised as influence) then you’d have a point. But I do think it’s more subtle than that. I’m not going to do justice, in one blog, to the theme of influencing others. But what I do know is that influence requires conscious or unconscious understanding of neuroscience, communication, gravitas, empathy, engagement, coaching and change – and the list goes on.
So if you want to be that #standout leader, take any opportunity you can to practice and perfect your skills in this area. Or just make everything you do become focused on influencing the behaviours of others. The rise of soft power is inevitable, and you’d better start developing yours 🙂
Yikes! Apologies for the slightly aggressive sounding blog today, but it helps me make the point. I’m just off the phone to a big motor dealer. I was enquiring about a vehicle they’ve just reduced in price.
Two things. Firstly, I got the usual “we’re getting loads of interest in this car, so I’d better see if it still available” line (we all want something more, if it’s high in demand or scarce, right?). I’m OK with that, mainly because it could actually be true. It’s a great car, at a good price. Secondly, I was asked if I’d been to the garage before, and spoken to any of their salespeople (because I guess each salesperson “owns” their own clients, or has to share commission if the customer has dealt with someone else previously).
Now, I seem to have a decent ability to make people feel relaxed when we’re chatting over the phone. And here’s what happened next. I said I’d only been before to wander around, and hadn’t spoken in detail to anyone. So he decided to laugh, and say that I’m “fair game then”. Ouch. I have visions of a small guy with a big gun. Slightly too aggressive. Unlikely to care about me as his customer.
Unfortunately, he killed our rapport stone dead. Like the animal his mind is hunting. And I don’t like being hunted. I might just turn and bare my teeth. Or at least be more stubborn about the deal we make.
OK, so we were relaxed, he was excited by a possible sale, and it’s just small talk. My point is simple. When involved in sales and service, be careful how much you relax. When relaxed, and without inhibitions, it’s amazing the daft things people say. And you don’t want to #standout for the wrong reasons.