Influence is the Game
We all know what we’d like to see in a leader, or at least maybe what we don’t. There has been either a leader that we thought was amazing - they made our jobs and days better - or one that… not so much.
A not so effective leader is hard to follow - it's literally hard to know what they ask of us, but also it's hard to want to do anything. Even if you feel really passionate about a shared goal, if you can’t fully get behind your leader, it's hard to fully support the effort. Now, there are a lot of resources for people to learn how to become better leaders, but how about resources to become better followers?
Being a “follower” simply means the role of “leader” is not yours to own for this particular moment, and instead, you are acting as a producer to get the work done. Being a follower doesn't mean you're not an influencer. Especially in places where leaders may be lacking in leadership skills, followers can be the ones influencing to make workdays better for others around them.
How can you do this? Let’s walk through a situation and apply some tips.
1. It’s about time and place
Picture this: “Louis” is a family name, passed down to you through generations. You’ve just graduated and are ready to start your first job. You get an interview with a company you’d really like to work for - but your interviewer (and subsequent boss) pronounces your name wrong. You correct them, but they do it again by mistake, and this frustrates you.
You know better than to hold onto a grudge, (you've heard that held grudges can turn into unexpected explosions), so you want to address something right away. Chances are pretty good that the leader has no idea their actions affect you this way. Calling attention to it may be exactly what the person needs to work on it. And if they do know how it affects you, bringing it out into the open with the intention of working through it will create the safe and productive space the conversation needs.
But it’s not just about right away (which really means as soon as possible) because you also want to be sensitive about the environment. You know that saying “praise in public, correct in private”? It's not just a saying - it’s good practice! Leaders can handle correction too, but they deserve the respect of having it done privately as well.
At the end of the interview, you make a point of pronouncing your name correctly. The interviewer apologizes. You think to yourself, phew! That's over, but then the interviewer goes on to make a statement that rubs you the wrong way. They mention they had an uncle Louis and his name was pronounced the “more common way.” You walk away feeling still unsettled.
2. Honesty is the best policy
Despite the name mishap, you're hired and have your first day. Before the day gets underway, it's a good idea to speak your truth, respectfully, and start with a clean slate. Rather than beginning a working relationship feeling frustrated by their actions from the interview, it's best to clear the air as soon as you can. Good leaders prize honesty, even when it's uncomfortable.
Phrases like “Honestly, I’m not sure...” “To speak my truth, I didn’t appreciate it when…” can help you be sure your voice is being heard, whether it's your input on the project or asking for correct pronunciation of your name. (And trust me, I spent the first 22 years of my life as Sinikka Wainionpaa, I've heard people mispronounce my name for years!)
A “not so much” leader may not be used to hearing statements like these. But it’s important for the leader to know where their people stand and to be aware of how they’re doing. With a gentle and compassionate tone, you can state your name, its correct pronunciation, and ask to be respected in the workplace. Whatever it is, don't be afraid to be honest, especially with respect.
3. Knowing when to move forward
A quick apology later, air cleared, your new boss takes you around doing introductions with the team. Here's where the story goes sideways... they do pronounce your name correctly, but in order to have something to talk about with your new coworkers, you decide to tell the story of your interview. You share with Becky the hard time your boss had in pronouncing your name and the comment they made in the end that you describe as snarky.
Imagine how this plays out! In an attempt to build camaraderie or conversation among coworkers, you've established a pattern of a story that's true, but not useful or good or kind. Now others know you as the one who talks about people unkindly behind their backs. Next, others start to do the same around you. Before you know it, others start to do the same about you. Is that what you want? Doesn't sound like a better workday to me!
Let's try a better run... they do pronounce your name correctly, and you smile and thank them. You acknowledge that you're probably the first "Louis" who's worked around here, and you're really grateful they've made the effort to say your name the way you do!
Now imagine how this plays out! You're the one who praises people publicly and recognizes someone else's efforts. You're the one who notices when someone else makes an attempt to get it right. Those sound like good workday habits to reinforce, don't they?
How else can followers influence their leaders? What’s worked for you? As a leader, do you take the time to notice areas of growth, and make the effort to improve? We can all have influence and play a part in making each day even better.