Senior HR figures may not be as influential as they think they are – that’s the warning from one renowned C-suite mentor who says leaders often overestimate their impact.
Established coach Stacey Hanke has worked with countless major names, including McDonalds, General Electric and John Deere – but she says that regardless of the industry or organisation, there are always four myths which tend to hold leaders back.
“The biggest myth is that influence means we turn it on when we need it the most,” she tells HRD. “You see people do this in a presentation or a high stakes meeting but when you do that, you don’t come across as authentic or genuine.”
To be truly influential, Hanke says leaders must be consistent – both in their message and body language – from Monday to Monday.
“No matter who you’re talking to, no matter what medium you’re pushing that message through, the more consistent you are with it, the more people don’t have to guess – that’s when you really start eliminating all doubt in your listener’s mind,” she explains.
Secondly, Hanke says leaders often assume that the higher up they go in an organisation, the more influential they’ll become – despite making no changes to their attitude or behaviour.
“I’ve worked with individuals who are just coming into an organisation or they’re building their way up, and they already had more influence than some of the CEOs I’ve worked with,” she tells HRD.
The third misconception that often catches leaders out is that if they feel happy or confident while communicating, they’re having an impact.
“We often rely on our feelings to determine how influential we are,” explains Hanke. “But how we feel and what we believe to be true can be vastly different to reality.”
Finally, the fourth misconception – one that becomes more common as leaders ascend within an organisation – is around blindly trusting the feedback from friends and colleagues.
“When we ask; ‘How do I do?’ so many times we’re told; ‘Good, nice job!’ and we rely on that without really questioning it,” says Hanke.
“That becomes worse and worse as people move up the corporate ladder because the feedback becomes rarer and less honest.”
While there a number of pitfalls waiting to undermine leaders’ influence, Hanke says there is an incredibly effective way to get to the truth.
“The best way to test yourself is by using audio and video,” she tells HRD. “When you record yourself in action – giving a presentation, talking to a group, even on phone conversations – you’re going to finally get an opportunity to experience yourself the way your listeners experience you.”
Hanke – who recently penned ‘Influence Redefined: Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, Monday to Monday’ – says it’s not uncommon for execs to be shocked when they see or hear their own behaviour played back to them.
“I was working with the CEO of a very large manufacturing company and I did a video recording of him just in his day to day – when he watched it with me, maybe 15 seconds into his playback, he looked at me and said; ‘I bet you wonder how I ever became CEO.’
“I asked him where that comment was coming from and he admitted that he really does get false feedback – if we’re not truly self-aware, there’s a good chance that we’re basing how effective we are off of how we feel rather than fact.”