- There are three levels of contribution
- The operator does a great job
- The leader helps others do a great job
- The influencer helps shape the jobs of everyone
- The key is to look for, and propose, ideas for imprvoement.
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In any situation (and this applies not just to work but any endeavour) there are three ways of contributing or being involved.
Each choice has value but they differ in how they're perceived by others, and therefore in the kind of opportunities that can come your way.
Let me explain.
Everyone, from the receptionist to the facilities manager, from the salesperson to the CEO, and every role in between is what I call an Operator. In other words, they have a job to do that involves some knowledge and skills and is done through certain actions they take.
For an accountant, it might include their knowledge of transactions and the skills of using spreadsheets or online programmes to create a cash flow statement, for example.
For a senior banker, it might include their knowledge of how companies raise capital and the skills of meeting clients and writing credit papers for their credit team to review.
In both cases, these people are working at the level of an operator - someone who does the job required of them.
This level of working is valuable to organisations because it's the core of how they function. We tend to pay more money to those who operate at higher levels of ability and contribution and less to those who operate at a lower level.
The goal here, for an individual, would obviously be to become as good an operator as possible and this is often accomplished through personal and professional development over time.
In essence, the operator thinks about what they should be doing.
There is another level of contribution and it is the Leader. These are people who have a role in providing direction and helping other people work together to accomplish it.
Usually, organisations give them titles like Team Leader, Manager or Project Lead and in a professional service firm titles like Supervisor, Director or Partner.
Typical leadership activities involve creating team goals, having meetings with staff where goals are shared and plans are made, giving feedback on the progress of work and so on. Higher levels of leadership involve doing the same but for a business unit, department or even the whole company.
This level of contribution is valuable to organisations because research, and my own experience, clearly shows that good leadership enables people to thrive, and poor leadership causes people to become frustrated and leave.
The goal here is to provide clear direction, create an environment that enables effective progress, and support staff to achieve and thrive.
In essence, the leader thinks about what their people should be doing.
However, there is another level of contribution which is open to anyone at all, and it makes the biggest difference in how you're perceived by others.
Influencers tend to be those who inspire people and shape the environment. Their mindset is one of looking forward and seeing better possibilities. They do their job, and may or may not be an offical leader, but on top of that they're looking for ways to make things better.
That might be in how a process is followed, or whether the process is working in the first place. It could be in coming up with an idea for a product or service because they see the current offerings falling short. It might be in stepping up to offer help for an important project because they have a real enthusiasm for it. Or it might be in socialising an idea amongst peers on how the business could reduce unnecessary meetings.
These people work not to just play the game, and lead others in playing the game, but to literally change the game so it can be better. They look for, and try to foster, improvements in processes, products, projects or people.
This level of contribution is valued by organisations because it helps them improve what they're doing and how they're doing it. And the thing is, people notice influencers.
In one of my client organisations, a top leader was telling me the kind of people they're looking for, for senior promotions. Guess what? It's not those who've been there the longest, or those who do a great job.
He said, "We want people who are influential, who go out of their way to put more value on the table, who have ideas for improving the current state." In other words, he's looking for influencers.
Do you work at the level of an operator, who does a good job, a leader who helps others do a good job, or an influencer who helps shape the work so everyone can do a great job?
How to Be More Influential
- Look around you at work and start to notice where things could be improved.
- Craft an idea on what could be improved, what improved would look like, and how the change could be made.
- Approach a person you think might get on board with your idea, and talk about with them. Not as a fait accompli, but rather "Hey, I've been thinking about X and I've got some ideas on how we might make it more effective. Got a few moments?"
- As you discuss it with them, make it an exploration rather than something that's already been decided. "So, Bob, what do you think?", "How might this work?" and "What do you think could be some good next steps?"
- Offer to take the lead and continue to socialise the idea until a few people are on board.
- Then map out a simple plan of stages and steps that can be taken, and start taking them.
A Small Suggestion
Start with something simple but useful. If you try to take on a major organisational overhaul, it might be too hard to win buy-in at this stage.
Earn your stripes as an influencer, a "value-adder" and build momentum of support for both you and your ideas.
Want to be Brilliant at This?
From 20 years of coaching professionals in industries ranging from law to landlines, banks to Boeings and insurance to intellectual property, I've found there are 5 keys to being more influential. Keys that can be learned.
I've created an online course called The Art of Influence to teach those 5 keys with short videos, downloadable PDF workbooks and plenty of tips for making it all work in practice.
If you're keen on flexible, focused and cost-effective learning, and want to become a master influencer, then click the link to find out more and see whether it's for you.