Solving problems is in the DNA of engineers. So why do tech leaders and organizations struggle to bring their innovative ideas to fruition? I have encountered and coached several technical leaders who get caught up in office politics and organizational turf wars. In an ideal environment, the best ideas and data win. In reality, having a great idea is not enough to take it from ideation to a finished product. As a result, innovation, team performance, and job satisfaction are impacted. The real losers are those lives that never changed because these ideas didn’t come to life.
Due to the increasing complexity of business challenges, evolving consumer needs, geopolitical tensions, social unrest, and globally accessible talent, tech leaders must rethink their influencing strategy with stakeholders to get things done. Today’s innovation requires tech leaders to think beyond their organizational charts and work across boundaries, disciplines, and diverse perspectives to deliver integrated products, services, and solutions that delight the customer. To successfully bring your vision to life—get resources, energize talent, align stakeholders and improve execution, you must think like a CEO and deliver like an entertainer. To think like a CEO is focused on your company’s purpose, direction, value proposition to customers, strategic decisions, goals and objectives, and key results. To deliver like an entertainer focuses on your relationship with your stakeholders. Both are equally important to become an influential tech leader.
Think like a CEO:
To become an influential tech leader, especially in large organizations, you must learn to think like a CEO—it goes beyond making money. CEOs think systematically and create value for all their stakeholders—the Board of Directors, shareholders, employees, customers, local communities, and meet societal expectations(support environmental, social, and governance issues). To manage the expectations of these diverse stakeholders, great CEOs assume the role of conductor—they seek unity, not uniformity, to transform the noise into music. Similarly, tech leaders must become skilled in managing and creating value for all their stakeholders. It requires shifting your focus from a siloed perspective to creating value for the entire system. Adopting this mindset will broaden your views and knowledge of the business. And it will demonstrate that you are thinking of the business of today and tomorrow.
In Mandela’s words, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” Influential CEOs understand and speak the language of their stakeholders. To speak the language of your stakeholders, consider the wise words of Ram Charan, a world-renowned business advisor, speaker, and author of What the CEO Wants You to Know. “Invest time in developing your business acumen—understand how your business works and makes money.” Increasing your business acumen will enable you to have meaningful discussions with your stakeholders.
According to Charan, it is essential for tech leaders to understand the financial aspects of their ideas and not leave them to the finance department. So, when communicating with your stakeholders, have you taken the time to understand how your idea fits your organization’s strategy? Is there a sizeable market for it? Do you have the right talent and culture to execute your vision? Does your idea have an edge over competitors? Is it going to support existing product lines and conserve money, or is it consume cash? How is society going to improve with this idea? Doing your due diligence before speaking with stakeholders will build trust and increase your chances of success.
Deliver like an entertainer:
Entertainers have one goal: to share their talents in a way that creates memorable experiences for their fans. For this to happen, entertainers must believe they have something to offer, be authentic, and care about their audience. Great entertainers measure their success by connecting with the crowd, not just performing. According to Gerald Klictstein, author of The Musician’s Way, “The performers who connect from the stage establish emotional relationships with their audiences.” During coaching or consulting sessions, I often hear why is networking so important when the data should speak for itself?
Greek philosopher, Aristotle, believed that persuasion and influencing occur when a speaker connects with the whole person—to reason, emotion, and character. Great entertainers use this technique to relate to and win over their audience. Similarly, what would happen to the quality and delivery of your presentations if you measured success not by getting through all the slides or displaying your brilliance? What if you chose to measure success by seeing the world through their eyes and then carrying them along with you.
So, how can tech leaders build this emotional connection with their stakeholders? For starters, it’s not about you. People will only play along when they know that you care about them first and you understand what’s in it for them. Consider the additional tips as you embark on your journey:
Inquire: Practice active listening. Seek to understand the pain points and the job your stakeholders are trying to do before advocating for your interests. Second, highlight what they and their teams will benefit from supporting your idea.
Be Human: All things being equal, people prefer working with people they like. Eliminate the technical jargon and meet people where they are—be authentic, inviting, and approachable.
Reveal your agenda: Be honest about your true intentions, vision, hopes, and what you hope to get out of it. Remember, people will perceive if you have a hidden agenda, and it will foster resistance.
Ask for feedback: David Novak, the author of Taking People With You, said, “To be a successful leader, one who gets big things done, you need to have the same kind of insight into the minds of those you lead.” How do you do that? According to Marshall Goldsmith, a leadership thinker, executive coach, and a New York Times bestselling author, ask. For example, “How can I be a better partner to you?”
Build Trust: If you come out of a train station and a colleague at work and a stranger asks you for $50. Who is likely to get your money? My guess, your colleague. Why? With familiarity comes accountability. People don’t place big bets on strangers. If your job requires that you work with and through people to deliver results, then being considered a stranger is not an option—interactions foster trust. So, be intentional about knowing your stakeholders personally and look out for small wins that demonstrate that you are a person of integrity. Think about your stakeholders. What’s the quality of your relationships with them? What steps will you take to move it to the next level?
To become an influential tech leader, do not rely on your title or position to get things done. Joseph Wong says, “Unleash your influence, not your authority.” Data may get your stakeholder’s attention, but you swing them into action by touching their hearts. According to Carla Harris, author of Strategize To Win, you need both performance and relationship currency to get ahead and win with people. The good news is that you are already 50% there with your expertise (performance currency). To establish your relationship currency, think about your car insurance policy. You got it before you needed it. Similarly, be intentional and use every interaction with your stakeholders as an opportunity to build trust.
In today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment, your expertise alone is not enough to close the deal. Tech leaders must think of the whole system–the business, people, and culture. Understanding the business will help you make the right decisions to win in the marketplace. Knowing your people will enable you to energize them by creating a common purpose. Creating a winning culture will foster interpersonal risk-taking, innovation, strengthen relationships, and accelerate results.