small-changes-big-resultsWant more influence? Contrary to what you might think, small changes can yield big results!

One of my clients we will call Sam is a very confident accounting executive who prides himself on how he has built a strong team but is struggling to gain support for his new product line.  Senior executives doubt if he is the right guy for building a new business and Sam is constantly under attack to explain why progress is so slow. Recently, he shared a small but BOLD move he made; he waited until a large meeting was over and as people were leaving, he proceeded to ask two senior level colleagues for honest feedback: why he always seems to come across as defensive. To Sam’s surprise, they told him he needs to alter his style – instead of pushing his agenda on them, he needs to ask more questions, listen, and pull them along with him.  Even more surprising, one of his senior level colleagues we will call Sue was so impressed with his simple bold move that she is trying to figure out a way to help him, whereas in the past she wasn’t very supportive.

Why is this small move so significant? Most people never do it because they don’t want to look weak or ask for help. While that sounds like a smart macho strategy that get things done with a chest pound afterward to celebrate, the problem is that if you want to become more influential – you need two key support mechanisms:

  1. Weak ties – links that connect people who are not directly connected by the friendship themselves, ie. people in your network/work environment who are connected to people you trust (such as friends) BUT are not close allies themselves. 
  2. Strategically vulnerable – comfort with asking for help and sharing your challenges
What are weak ties and why are they so critical?

I just finished reading this month’s recommended reading, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg which has been on the best seller list for a while.  It is an inspiring book full of stories ranging from how Starbucks trains its servers to be happy employees to how Rosa Parks’ bus boycott ignited the civil rights movement.  This book answered the question of why Rosa Parks’ simple act of disobedience was so powerful. Because Rosa had a wide network of friends and was very well liked, the way she was treated outraged her friends. With the factor of peer pressure kicking in, as Rosa’s friends continued to tell their respective friends, “the power of weak ties” led to the beginnings of the Montgomery bus boycott.*

This concept of “weak ties” was first discovered in the 1960s by Mark Granovetter, a Harvard PhD, who was exploring how male job seekers found their current employment.  What was most surprising to Mark was how often these job seekers received help from friends of friends – what he called, “weak ties.”  It works like this:  for example, you tell your friends that you are looking for a job as a web designer and they hook you up with someone they play tennis with who runs a website for a large company.  What Granovetter discovered is that the weak-tie relationships were often MORE important than strong-tie friends in giving us access to people, networks, and jobs that we would not otherwise belong.  Granovetter said that people with FEW weak ties were deprived of the latest ideas, news, and opportunities as contrasted with those who had wider and more weak ties.*

So how do you get comfortable being vulnerable?

This is the challenge as most of us don’t want to be vulnerable in the workplace and certainly not to people we hardly know.  Sam made a SMALL move in a subtle and informal manner – asking for feedback.  These small moves done with people in low risk and informal settings increases the odds of success versus when they happen in a formal meeting.  Also, asking for help or advice makes you strategically vulnerable instead of revealing anything that puts you or your career at risk. In fact, the opposite happens, people tend to feel more inclined to help those who ask for their help, similar to how Sue was now trying to help Sam AFTER he asked for feedback.  The more you can make yourself strategically vulnerable to critical stakeholders in a manner that makes them want to help you, the more you are making it safer for yourself to take smart risks at work.

If you want people to listen to your advice and implement your brilliant ideas, then you need to start getting comfortable being uncomfortable and reaching out to those people that aren’t your best friends.  Have a beer with your friend but ask that colleague who always disagrees with you for advice. You might be pleasantly surprised! What little steps can you do to have more influence?


The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
 

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