Lisa Olsen’s effective strategies for developing a positive influence.
As administrative professionals, we have the opportunity to use positive energy and face challenges in both our personal and professional lives with grace, diplomacy and optimism. Those challenges can manifest themselves in many forms. Despite the challenges, the choice is ours which side of the net we land. And which side of the net we choose determines the influence we project and how others respond to us. It’s paramount to our success that we recognize our potential for influence, which is a key to leadership at any level.
There is a difference between exercising power over others to make us look better than someone else, and the influence that builds relationships, credibility and trust.
Here are some simple, yet effective strategies that will develop your positive influence.
1. Give others the “10” treatment.
Nadia Comăneci is a former Romanian gymnast who was the winner of three gold medals at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. She was first gymnast ever to be awarded a perfect score of 10.0. I recall watching her first flawless performance and wondering why it was taking so long to post her score. At the time, the score boards being used were not able to score a perfect 10.0 – the highest the score boards could display was a 9.9. Finally, the score came up and it read 1.0. The live audience and millions of viewers were astonished! After a few minutes, an announcer came on the air to clarify that the score was in fact a perfect 10.0.
In the workplace, we can give others the “10” treatment by acting our A.G.E:
Giving credit by Acknowledgement, expressing Gratitude and practicing the habit of Encouragement.
Be someone who acknowledges the work and contributions of others. Give them recognition by expressing gratitude for their work on the team. Encourage others and give them a chance to be involved. Early in my career, when I was new on the job, another assistant went out of her way to acknowledge me and invite me to lunch. During lunch she encouraged me to give my best and was positive and enthusiastic. She gave me the “10” treatment. That had influence on me as a new assistant. It made me try a little harder and go the extra mile to do well and perform at a higher level. I never forgot that and as I gained experience and new assistants came on board, I did the same thing. I still do it today.
I also learned a valuable lesson from my mother who worked for many years as an Executive Assistant at the Embassy of Iraq in Washington, D.C. I worked there during the summers doing very important work like stuffing envelopes! But, while I stuffed envelopes I was able to observe my mother show her A.G.E.
I recall one day on her way to an important meeting with the Ambassador, she headed up the large, winding staircase with deep crimson carpet. Halfway up the stairs, she stopped to acknowledge the housekeeper who was intensely polishing the golden wood banister. She stopped, turned to her and called her by name with a smile. She thanked her for the time she was putting into her work and how beautiful the wood looked as she ran her hands over the smooth polished wood. She demonstrated a sincere and genuine influence that clearly made a difference.
Lead people as they can be and you will be amazed how they respond to you.
2. Be a Relationship Engineer
When all is said and done, business is about people. Despite our reliance on smart phones, social media and millions of gigabytes of technology at our fingertips, sometimes it’s best to get out of the cloud and focus on people. Successful assistants of influence understand how this can help them have influential impact. Focus on being an engineer of relationships by taking an interest in people.
The new bridge that was built above the Hoover Dam is an engineering marvel. The concrete supports were deeply embedded in the steep sides of the rock canyon high above the dam to support the amount of concrete it took to span the chasm and meet in the middle from both sides.
Relationships are the same.
Sometimes we have to meet people in the middle – even when we disagree. Assistants of influence recognize the value of communication. Don’t be so action oriented or agenda driven that you don’t make people a high enough priority. I have had days where I have been super glued to my chair and have not even hopped up to say hello to the person in the office next to me. I’ll send a two line email – but how does that help my influence factor?
I now make a conscious effort to remove myself from my chair, unplug from the computer, get out of the cloud, change my “outlook” and actually speak words (those are things made up of 26 letters that people can actually hear and understand!) of encouragement and acknowledgement to those around me.
People will move toward someone who increases them and away from anyone who decreases them. If we aren’t even speaking to others around us, it’s quite possible we will be doing more decreasing than increasing in regards to our influential impact.
3. Exercise Patience with Others
In times of stress, our impatience can bubble to the surface. We may say things we don’t really mean, we may become sullen and we might communicate through emotion, negative body language or a soured attitude. We tend to criticize and pass judgment or harbor hurt feelings.
Patience is a practical expression of wisdom. It is a very active attribute. It is not indifference or resignation. Patience takes willpower and a conscious effort and awareness. Our personal and professional experience provides an abundance of opportunities to practice patience. People might disagree with your opinion, hesitate to embrace your ideas, take advantage, or even let you down. Be careful not to classify, categorize or measure them. When we do that, we are often in reality demonstrating our own insecurities.
Patience is emotional diligence and requires self-awareness and self-regulation. If you are known as someone who is not offended easily, you gain incredible influence and draw others to you for the right reasons.
4. Perform Secret Service
Whenever we do good for others anonymously, our sense of intrinsic worth and self-respect increases. Studies have shown that our job satisfaction and performance is driven more by intrinsic motivators rather than monetary rewards or incentives.
We can find small ways to perform some secret service at the office. Several years ago, one of my co-workers lost her teenage son to a very sudden illness. It was tragic and when she returned to work, we were at a loss as to how to best comfort yet and ease the awkwardness of not knowing what to say or how to say it. Her manager finally came up with a brilliant idea that helped all of us handle the emotions we all felt. She suggested we leave her small tokens on her desk with a note or just walk by and offer a smile or soft touch on the shoulder. Influence isn’t always about words. It’s also about actions.
Over the next few days, several of us would take turns leaving her favorite soda, candy bar, candle, or quote on her desk. Over time, we all eased into comfortable conversation again. Influence can also be demonstrated quietly and gracefully.
Know Your Executive
When was the last time you left a note for your executive? Or a voice mail at the end of a particularly rough day? Those are two simple ways to perform secret service. Knowing your executive is an essential ingredient to influence and the perception others have of that influence and partnership. For example, I know when to approach my executive. I don’t run in to her office first thing in the morning with a laundry list of issues or questions.
During my first 90 days, I took time to observe her style and preferences. After I few weeks, I identified some small routines that I knew she would appreciate. I make sure her desk is ready, the water is stocked, her calendar is opened. Upon arrival, she has a chance to get settled and then at 9:00 am we have a quick stand-up meeting to review the day. If it’s a particularly busy day, I hold off on the morning stand-up meeting and wait until the end of the day, when I can provide some encouragement and discuss how I can assist with the key initiatives and challenges she dealt with that day.
Influencing your manager or executive happens when you take time to observe, know their feedback protocol, understand and respect their work style, and the best way to communicate with them.
I keep several boxes of nice notecards in my desk. My goal is to write at least 3 a week. Sometimes I fall short however, when I do take time to perform a little secret service by writing a quick note, it lifts both the receiver and the giver. Selfless service has always been one of the most powerful methods of influence. Don’t take a nice box of notecards for granted! Open them and use them for influential impact.
5. Untangle the Knots
Life can often feel like a twisted skein of yarn! We feel tangled, confused, and overwhelmed. It is difficult to have influence when we feel less than our best. Our personal management tools must stay sharp in order to perform our best work and be able to contribute to our individual success as well the success of others. We have a personal responsibility to take ownership of our time and find ways to simplify if needed. I have found holding myself accountable for untangling my own knots is essential to my influence factor.
Corporate change, mergers and acquisitions, financial challenges and restructures can be causes of those knots. Assistants of influence are adaptable and are champions of change. It doesn’t mean we always agree or understand the changes; however, being seen as someone who projects the change agent attitude will foster credibility.
It might be as simple as realigning priorities for effective management. It might require slowing down a little in order to speed up. What does that mean? Consider the story of a small bird that flew into an open garage. The little bird darted around frantically at the top of the garage for hours until his little body just wore out. Maybe, if the bird had simply slowed down and perched a minute, he could have regrouped, looked around, and seen the open door and flown out safely. How often do we find ourselves like the little bird, going at mock speed, flying aimlessly from one task to another? Take time to untangle the knots and effectively manage priorities.
6. Recall your Try-umphs!
When the tough days come, and they usually do, remember the things that you have accomplished and achieved. Talk to yourself! Remind yourself of your successes and contributions. Know that you count!
A valuable exercise to complete every week is the “5-15 Report.”
Every Friday, you spend 15 minutes answering the following questions:
1. How have I demonstrated the corporate mission and values this week?
2. What fires did I put out?
3. Did I invest time in my professional development?
4. How did I help someone else this week?
Answering those questions can help keep you on track and feeling motivated to practice administrative influence. It will happen naturally if you dedicate time to ponder and evaluate your week.
Our try-umphs are those habits, tools, strategies, ideas and attitudes that we give a little extra “umph” to every day even when we struggle. Focus on the “umphs” and good things will happen!
7. Know What You Don’t Know
Develop a habit of curiosity. Read what your executive reads. Read articles, blogs and books that will open up your mind to new ways of thinking. Take a class, learn a new software program. Establish a relationship with a mentor. Attend an administrative conference or workshop. Knowing what you don’t know will keep you from getting the worst of administrative professional diseases: complacent. Influential assistants are in constant beta mode; willing to educate themselves and develop effective problem solving skills. They are willing to learn from others because they want to improve and be impactful.
Be the creative force in your own life. When you realize the empowerment and influence that comes from that, you won’t need to worry about influence. Leaving a legacy of influence is what every assistant should strive for.