If you aren’t consistently getting the results you want–as an individual, as a leader, as a professional–perhaps you’re not as influential as you think you are. I realize that’s a bold statement just a few sentences into a book. After all, I don’t even know you.
But what if I’m right?
Why not stay with me for at least the first few chapters and find out? In my experience, most leaders aren’t as influential as they think they are. Michael* is a great example. I met Michael, a senior executive with a multinational firm, at one of my leadership workshops. At the end of the day, after all the other participants had left, he came up to talk to me. “Wow, you really opened my eyes today,” he said.
“I have a high-powered job with a lot of responsibility,” Michael explained. “I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at. I think of myself as confident, credible and influential, and I’m always conscious of my presence.” As he shared his perception of himself, I noted that his appearance matched his demeanor. “But your session has me questioning just how influential I really am.
“Several months ago I made a presentation to a prospective client about a huge contract,” he continued. “I was sure I had nailed it and that we would win the contract. Later that day, I used one of those limo servicesto get to the airport. During the ride, the prospective client called to ask a follow-up question, and we talked for several minutes.
“When I got off the phone, the driver asked if he could give me some feedback. I thought that was kind of odd. So at first, honestly, I just ignored him and kept looking at my phone. But then he asked again.
“When I looked up, he was staring at me in the rearview mirror. I figured there must be something wrong with how I looked. You know . . . lint on my suit, spot on my tie, spinach in my teeth from lunch. I gave myself a quick once-over but didn’t notice anything.
“At that point, I didn’t want to be rude so I said, ‘Sure, bring it on.’
“Get this . . . the driver said, ‘I chauffeur a lot of high-powered executives. When you first got in the car, you looked like you were a big deal. But then I overheard your phone conversation. It was difficult to follow what you were saying, and it took you a long time to get to the point. And you say um and uh a lot. I mean no disrespect, sir, but I thought you would want to know.’”
(You may be thinking, like I was, there is no way this story actually happened. I have heard a lot of crazy stories from leaders over the years, but this one seemed outlandish. What limousine driver says something like that to a passenger, especially an executive? I politely questioned Michael about the incident, and he assured me it was true. That limo driver must have had incredible moxie or been looking for a reason to get fired. I guess sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction.)
As Michael continued to tell me his story, his expression became quite animated. “Well, as you can imagine, I was ticked off! I couldn’t believe the nerve of this guy criticizing me like that! And I was caught off guard . . . I didn’t know how to respond. No one had ever said anything like that to me before.
“Fortunately, right then we pulled up to the airport. I got out, slammed the door and walked away. I just wrote off him and his ‘feedback’ as clueless and didn’t give it a second thought . . . until today.”
Michael paused for a moment. “During your session, you explained that most people aren’t as influential as they think they are, but they don’t know it partly because they rarely get honest feedback. That was when it suddenly hit me–what if that driver was right? The feedback he gave me is probably what everyone else is thinking but won’t say to my face.
“I used to think I was fairly influential,” he continued, looking dismayed. “Now I realize I’m probably not as influential as I thought.”
Standing there listening to Michael, my heart went out to him. Like so many of the leaders I work with, he had inadvertently fallen into a trap of disbelief and denial. It is tough to watch individuals come to the realization that they lack true influence or have damaged what influence they did have. Yet I know from experience that self-awareness is a difficult but necessary step to growing one’s influence.
Although Michael’s story certainly was different than any I had heard before, the theme was one I am all too familiar with. I have had the privilege to train and coach tens of thousands of leaders across the country. These leaders represent a diverse cross-section of industries, functional areas, leadership levels (from C-suites to directors), ages and gender. Even today, I am still amazed at how differently individuals perceive their level of influence compared to reality.
The vast majority of leaders–I estimate 95 percent–think they are more influential than they actually are.
You may be thinking, Wow! That number is really high! How can that be? I’m confident in my estimate of 95 percent because of what my team and I have observed almost daily in our work with clients over many years. In our workshops, we see the profound self-awareness that occurs as individuals watch themselves on video playback for the first time. The CEOs and executives I coach one-on-one come to realize that they are not as influential as they thought they were and that it affects their ability to lead. Frequently after my keynotes, people come forward to tell me they now understand that they have to grow their influence.
Why is it so common for people to overestimate their level of influence?
Continue reading to find out…
Excerpt from Influence Redefined by Stacey Hanke, courtesy of Greenleaf, 2017.