How To Influence Your Boss

How To Influence Your Boss

Boss not listening?

Imagine. You're buzzing with ideas to introduce positive change, but your boss just isn't interested - worse, positively blocking you. How would you feel? What would you do?

This was the experience of a client I worked with recently.

Will contacted me because he was feeling stuck, brow-beaten and blocked at work.

His frustration and disenchantment had grown so much that he was questioning the whole direction of his career, believing he’d made a huge mistake in taking up his latest role, and wondering if he should change track completely.  

As we talked, it became clear that Will was still energised by the field he was in. He had ideas for streamlining and growing his company too and was excited by the potential for the new and fulfilling projects that could result. 

But there was a problem. His boss. The MD. 

Will's boss just wasn’t interested in his ideas to grow the business and couldn’t see the point of the projects Will wanted to initiate. Moreover, he positively blocked some of Will's ideas – particularly those that involved investment in technology and changes to how things got done.   

It was evident that Will's boss was a challenging character. The company was more of a hobby than a business for him. What seemed obviously ‘right’ for the business to Will, wasn’t necessarily ‘right’ for him. He had very different priorities, principles and values.  

But the bigger issue was that Will had given up trying to influence him. 

He’d started strong. He’d approached his boss with enthusiasm, talking about the potential business benefits of his ideas, about how the company could grow and streamline, and how new and exciting projects could fall out of that. But each time he made his suggestions, they failed to make the impact he expected them to. Will's enthusiasm and perseverance gradually slowed and faltered. Now it had run aground. 

It’s easily done. It’s hard to keep going when you feel your ideas are constantly ignored or blocked. More so when that results in you not feeling respected by your boss, and vice versa - when it impacts your own respect for your boss, too. Add on, as in Will's case, a demanding job where the day-to-day workload is extremely high and time extremely tight – well, it’s often simpler to take the course of least resistance, focus on something else, and stop trying. It feels less painful at the time.

Except the pain always comes back. And that was why Will was talking to me now.

Will needed a strategy to influence his boss – one that took into account what he’d tried already, and the specific challenges his boss’s character presented. He also needed a more helpful mindset, because the one he was in, which was swinging between despondency, submissiveness, and battle – wasn’t.

Our coaching focus was clear. There was work to be done!

What about you? Do you ever struggle to get buy-in to your ideas, or to have the influence and impact you would like? 

If so, here are the four things I’ve found often trip us up, and four suggestions for what to do about them.

Four things that can sabotage your impact and influence:

  1. Having too narrow a motivation.
  2. Not thinking about your audience enough.
  3. Not putting your point across in a way that audience can hear.
  4. Having an unhelpful mindset.

Four suggestions for what to do about them:

  1. Think about your motivation. Are you only looking at this through your own lens, and answering your own needs? Or are you thinking about the bigger picture – what’s best for your team, your customers, your organisation? What are the consequences to others of what you want to do or change?  Check that you’re wearing multiple ‘hats’, not just a ‘me’ one.
  2. Think about your audience. Who needs to hear what you want to say? Who has the power to make what you want happen?  Who has the respect and standing to be an influential champion, or a supportive ally, for what you want to see changed?  Who has the power to block, or raise objections, resistance or opposition to you? Establish who it is you need to influence.
  3. Now join up (1) and (2) and think about the way you’re making your point. Put yourself in each of your audience's shoes; imagine you're hearing your message with their ears. From their perspective. With their priorities. Their pressures and stresses. Their values. Their foibles... How can you work smartly with that? Craft your message in a way that they can hear, understand, relate to, and support.  
  4. Develop a helpful mindset, one that's sustainable. This includes knowing how to manage any difficult emotions that may arise in you that could sabotage your efforts. And being ready and willing to work with what is, not how you think things should be.

This was key for Will. I couldn't argue with the long list of negative personal and leadership traits Will detailed about his boss; he offered ample evidence. But this focus on his boss not being the boss he wanted him to be, not being the boss he should be, wasn't helpful. He needed a mindset shift. To a mindset that could work with what is

Want more? I’m here and ready to help.