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Influential Leadership: Interview with Author Colin Gautrey

The author of Influential Leadership: A Leader's Guide to Getting Things Done, on influence and power: how to obtain it and, crucially, how to use it.

One of the principles of your book is that busy executives can save time by becoming more influential. Could you tell me how you first had this idea?

In my early days as an executive coach, so many of the time-consuming problems they were wrestling with came down to disagreement between them and their peers. When powerful people clash, each with opposing (great) ideas, a great deal of time, effort and goodwill can be expended on making the decision. What a waste. What if they could be more effective at influencing and clear though the inevitable challenges more quickly?

The book features your Seven Sources of Power. Could you tell me about one or two of them?

When researching this framework, one of the delights was the emergence of the powerful impact that character has on others. It seems eons ago that leadership development focused on character building, yet it remains a vital component of preparing someone to lead and be influential. Strong (positive) characters, however you define them, make a big difference, especially with the prevalence of incomplete information - they're trustable.

How do you think power is most effectively obtained? What pitfalls do people need to look out for?

Once you know what could make you powerful with a particular group, it can be as easy as realising that you already have it, you just didn't notice or make use of it. Equally, it can be easy to acquire. Sometimes it is as simple as gaining a specific piece of information that everyone needs, and cannot get anywhere else.

As for pitfalls, if you are growing in power, it will be noticed and others may not like it. All manner of things could begin to happen so as you are acquiring power you need to keep an eye on the impact this is having on others and the actions they may take as a result.

How important is a person’s reputation, and how would you put that idea of reputation in context?

Personally I think reputation is rapidly growing in importance, especially in large complex organisations where people often have to work intensely with people they've never known before (such as on a new global project). Effective working necessitates trust and reputation tells people what to expect (reputation preceding them). In my opinion, reputation is usually left to emerge on its own rather than being a conscious stream of activity. Your reputation is your starting point in any new relationship, so make it good!

You mention that some executives can be quite blinkered and unprepared for opposition. How would you advise them to prepare for it?

Pause and think. Running from one meeting to the next most people will be rapidly trying to think if they've got all the right paperwork, or how to avoid the embarrassment of not having read the meeting preparation notes! This time would be better spent creating the habit of asking two important questions about the individual (or team) you are about to meet. What are they trying to achieve? What pressures (influences) are they facing? Often this leads easily to changing the pitch so that it addresses their agenda. Most people are thinking 90% about their own agenda rather than the person they are trying to influence.

We know that we can’t please everyone, but who do we really need to please?

Those who have the most potential to help or hinder your progress towards your goals.

How would you recommend that people analyse and maximise the effectiveness of their networks?

Two important points come out in the book. Firstly, the need to maximise the return on investment from networking activities. Few people have enough time to do the networking they need to do, and end up talking to people who have little prospect of making a contribution to their purpose. This does of course need to be balanced with need to retain an element of serendipity. The second point which must be emphasised is that networking purely for self-interest gives a poor return on investment. You have to ensure that you are giving back to your network as well. Perfect balance between these two points is impossible, but getting close makes things so much more worthwhile.

If you had one piece of advice for someone who wants to get ahead as a leader, what would it be?

Put yourself in the shoes of the person (or people) you need cooperation from.

What advice would you give on building trust?

As above, invest time in getting to know people. Think about it. If you are convinced that someone really understands your needs, desires, concerns, feelings, wouldn't you be more inclined to trust what they have to say? Chapter 10 has a lot of ideas on doing this.

In terms of self-knowledge, what skills enable us to be better leaders?

If you want to be a better leader, I think the whole book will help. However, perhaps where this book stands out from others is the degree to which it will help you to build your analytical skills, especially of the environment where you are active and the people within it. That element is missing from most work on leadership.

Influential Leadership is out now from