INsight/ How To Influence

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Manila, 6 September 2017 — As a sustainability leader, you need to master your skills in mobilizing actions from people you have no control over. Where to start? 

"How to influence?" is one of the top problems that sustainability leaders raise when we work together in one of my programs.

Leaders for sustainability typically have big visions, which can be for sustainable products and services, or strategic innovations in renewable energy, energy efficiency, water services, integrated water management, smart cities, transport, waste management, and other areas of environmental–cum–social improvements.

Sustainability is imperative

Today, more and more businesses understand, as do governments, that working on sustainability is no longer an environmental or social luxury. It has become an imperative for putting our economies on a sustainable footing, adapting to climate change, and ensuring that our businesses can survive in relentless competition.

We are also discovering that working on sustainability provides unprecedented opportunities for business to be redeveloped, and for new business to be founded and started up. We can see this around us every day.

Successful sustainability projects require a lot of horizontal leadership, as they commonly require a wide variety of partners, clients, suppliers, regulators and stakeholders to be brought on board in some form of collaboration.

Diverse stakeholders

As a result, influencing skills are becoming ever more important. We simply cannot rely anymore on traditional command-and-control hierarchies to do all that is needed. Sustainability leaders need to span boundaries and bridge divides most of the time.

When we double click on influencing skills, we discover a variety of methods and techniques that involve networking, planning, and strategizing, amongst others.  

In my experience, the problem lying underneath the question "How to Influence?" has often to do with communication. How can sustainability leaders bring their bosses, clients, partners, and stakeholders on board to get their projects approved, funded and implemented to a successful outcome? To a large extent, the answer lies in finding ways for communicating effectively. 

Communcating effectively

That, however, poses another problem, when it turns out that all of the parties involved can have very different perspectives, agendas and procedures. Some can have vastly different worldviews determining what they believe, how they work and prioritize results, and how they want to go about achieving them. One style of communication will not win all of these parties over to come on board.

So what to do?

This where the sustainability leaders I work with have discovered the immense value of a method that allows them to connect with each of the parties in the way they prefer and are familiar with, thereby making it easier to close the communications gap and open the door for trust, engagement and collaboration towards a common goal.

I have written about the Work In All Colors method earlier because of how it allows sustainability leaders—and any leader for that matter—to become more effective in the way they connect with their audience in one-to-one conversations, in teamwork and meetings, and when speaking to a larger group of people to champion an important change and bring them on board for it.

Connecting hearts

We can learn from President Nelson Mandela, and from Professor Kotter at Harvard, that we need to learn how speak to the hearts of our audience, not just to their minds. Whether our communication is one-to-one or one-to-many, we need to make our audiences see and feel the need for change, and find ways to engage them to take on that change together.

Such communication, with that power of connecting, lies at the heart of influencing skills. And to do that, we can learn to speak in the language (the color) of our audience rather than our own, so that our perspectives will start to align, and trust can grow.

This is especially important for sustainability leaders, who need to master working in all the colors as they reach out to connect with a wide range of parties across the spectrum of the worldviews that are represented by the seven colors.  Their support is needed, and it takes the magical influencing skill of connecting to make that happen.