At the time I was a soldier in the Swiss army (nearly every men in Switzerland have to do its time for a few months), my lieutenant asked me to organize the team so we would set up the trenches for the night. He told me that he wanted to give me the taste of commanding so that it would motivate me to make my grades – which did not happen.
Typically, in the army, authority is used to make things happen. However, I really hated any forms of authority at that time (still a bit the case actually when I think about it) so I did not felt comfortable giving orders to my peers. I decided to build a common effort, we had a couple of trenches to build and organize the bivouacs, we had open discussions about the best way to position our trenches, where to place our shelters and so on and so forth. I was quite surprised by the fact that everybody seemed eager to help and was active in the discussion, I was really afraid that nobody would be involved. This was the first time in my life I realized that leading without authority was possible and potentially more effective than with authority! I believe my peers were happy to help me succeed for multiple reasons:
- We shared the same goals (being able to rest comfortably as fast as possible)
- Everybody understood why we were working after the goals (to a certain extend, as we could have gone to the hotel instead …)
- I had always behaved respectfully with all of them and tried to be helpful whenever possible
More than ten years later, I’m still using some of the strategies I developed during that time to influence people I’m working with. Also after nearly a decade of software engineering, I have learnt to deal with different types of people. Believe me or not but some engineer are pretty hard to deal with :).
Goals, data, information
This might sound obvious but before trying to influence anyone, we have some homework to do. Understanding the goals (ours and theirs) is a prerequisite to have fruitful conversation. We also need to be able to support our arguments with real data. Data acquisition should be the first step of most project anyway. Data can also be information that can be acquired by discussing with the right people, then we need to validate our data, and get the reality of the current data. With all of these, we should be able to paint with a fair accuracy the big picture and understand what the stake of the different people involved are. People will tend to listen to influencing signal of people who are known to have accurate data and understanding.
How we behave with people counts a lot, for me respect is a prerequisite for any form of collaboration.. Trust is hard to earn, easy to lose. We should be genuine with ourselves and be passionate, with good communication style, have grit, and ready to collaborate (make a win-win situation, don’t push your agenda). Having a clear vision of what we we want to fix is also quintessential to motivate people to join our projects.
Being connected with people around you help influencing. If you need to influence someone and you have no direct relationship with him, try to find people in his network. They can put you in contact and can potentially influence early.
Conclusion (TL; DR)
As a PM (product | program manager), we don’t get any granted authority. Using data, a positive attitude, and a strong network will help making progress on our projects.