There’s a difference between a boss and a leader. One tries to force influence on others, while the other values earning influence.
Organizations suffer when people are elevated to roles, and it’s assumed they’ve magically attained the ability to influence others. “I now out-rank you,” the boss thinks. “Therefore, you must give me what I covet: The ability to influence your actions.”
However, that’s not usually the case. Most individuals don’t — or won’t— follow that kind of boss. Followership, or being influenced by others, is a choice. This is where many organizations fail. Low engagement scores in companies are a symptom of this influence-gone-wrong dynamic.
To change that dynamic, learning leaders can develop the following three skills to upgrade a boss to leader status:
1. Identify and honor what fulfills direct reports. When a supervisor knows what makes a person feel complete and ensures their work creates that experience, the employee will grant the leader more influence.
2. Establish a philosophical common denominator with others. Making money is a shared purpose. But it’s a weak tactic to drive sustained influence. Identifying and consistently acknowledging a higher shared purpose will help elevate engagement. Then, people will change their behaviors because they want to, not because they have to.
3. Empower people to influence others.Leaders increase their influence when they allow others to have greater influence. Bosses diminish potential when they restrict who others want to be. Leaders, on the other hand, enable people to make a difference.
Stephanie Ade, a vice president in financial reporting at Jabil Circuit Inc., a global manufacturing services company, uses these skills to actuate potential. In one instance, one of her direct reports, a manager — we’ll call her Mary — was regularly causing conflict.
Ade said she was tempted to act like a boss. “Previously, I would have laid out the plan of change, the timeline and informed her that if she didn’t change, she would be counseled out.” Ultimatums, however, are the lowest form of influence. So Ade chose to lead.
“I learned it fulfills Mary to be recognized for her contribution,” Ade said. “So I was deliberate in making sure feedback and stories about her positive impact on the organization were filtered back to her.”
Next, to earn more influence, Ade found a philosophical common denominator. “Mary’s desire to be a strong business partner outside the department has been the key. The more we put her in a position to do that, the more she became engaged.”
The earned influence enabled Ade to have the necessary discussions about corrective actions. Subsequently, the change in Mary’s behavior was so dramatic that those around her noticed. Colleagues reported that Mary established herself as a model of collaboration, and now other managers seek her out for coaching.
“Mary recently told me she had an opportunity to leave us,” Ade said. Because they’ve empowered Mary to influence others, however, “she told me she didn’t plan on going anywhere.”