A how to on leading and collaborating when you’re not the boss
In June 2018, I was on maternity leave from my Marketing Communications role at Bayer. My phone rang and, like most people, I never actually answer the phone when it rings. I don’t usually check voicemails either but my phone was showing that Mike Cowbrough (OMAFRA Weed Specialist) had called. Mike and I share a mutual respect for each other (he was my Weed Science TA) and our conversations are very lively and candid in the best way possible.
My curiosity was peaked so I called him back. He was calling to ask if I would consider being a speaker at the plenary session of the Canadian Weed Science Society (CWSS) Annual Meeting in November 2018. Naturally, I had a few questions (Mike’s answers are included).
What is the plenary topic? New Frontiers in Weed Management.
Who are the other speakers? Academics.
When is the meeting? November 2018.
Where is the meeting? Niagara Falls.
What do you want me to talk about? Communicating with Customers.
He admitted he was asking me because the majority of his speaker lineup was a bunch of older, white dudes and he was looking to mix it up a bit.
I hesitated for a bunch of reasons including but not limited to:
I was on mat leave and my brain was dusty.
I would be the only woman speaking during the plenary.
I would be the only non-academic speaking during the plenary.
Sure, I work in communications. But I have a touch of imposter syndrome because I have no formal training, so what do I know about “Communicating with Customers”?
It was reasons two and three above that made me realize I needed to do this - for myself, for the audience and for CWSS as a whole.
After a lot of stopping and starting, I told Mike I wanted to change my topic. I needed to focus on something I had personal experience with and could build a compelling story out of. Basically, I wanted to not sound like a dumb dumb in front of peers at a meeting I used to attend regularly.
My working title was:
All influence, no authority: A how-to on leading and collaborating when you’re not the boss.
Because honestly, I have worked for 15 years at the same company but am not (yet) a boss in the formal sense. I have experience with influencing different levels of people (internal staff and customers) and have developed a set of “rules” to help build the rapport necessary. Most of my talk focused on telling my story and sharing my experiences about influencing without authority.
The day of the plenary, I had the second-to-last time slot. And the guy before me had 86 slides about his research data that he went through in 30 minutes. Needless to say, the audience was a little restless when it was my turn to get on stage.
I started my talk with a quick example of influencing without authority. People were actually leaving the room as Mike was introducing me. I was a bit pissed so I grabbed the microphone and said “Good afternoon! My name is Kate Hyatt. Could I ask everyone to stand if they are able, turn to their neighbour and give them friendly hello?” Much to my relief and amazement, those individuals leaving stopped and went back to their seats. The people in their seats followed my instructions. It was glorious and set the stage perfectly.
After the audience was settled back in their seats, my talk went more or less like this:
And there you have it - a person influencing you who has no authority over you.
Kind of like Mike Cowbrough’s request to me to speak with you today. Speaking of Mike, thank you for the invitation. Considering the company I’m keeping during this session, I’m honoured.
When Mike approached me, he asked if I could speak about communicating with customers. The Oxford dictionary defines a customer as: a person who buys goods or services from a shop or business, a person of a specified kind with whom one has to deal.
In my role as Brand & Advertising Manager, I do communicate with customers who buy Bayer products … but it’s infrequent and usually indirect.
So, when trying to figure out how to meet Mike’s ask, I really liked that a customer can be anyone with whom I have to deal.
For me, customers include my boss, internal teams such as sales, marketing and field development, as well as external teams (our advertising agency), farmers, consumers and so on.
All are “customers” with whom I communicate. They are also people who I often need to influence.
Before I go further, would you agree a common customer we all share might be a farmer? OK, great!
They look to us with questions and ask for recommendations. We need to guide them, educate them, inform them and influence them. And we don’t have any authority over them.
Very early in my career at Bayer, someone who I trust and respect sat me down and said:
“You’ll know you’re doing things right when you can get people who don’t report to you to work for and with you to accomplish your objectives.”
“Someday you’ll be the boss, but until then, work on influencing without authority.”
Besides summer students, I have yet to have direct reports and this advice has been invaluable.
To me, it’s about getting others to willingly cooperate and engage, rather than following orders from a boss. And when I grow up, and have the opportunity to lead and be the boss, I will strive for cooperation and engagement over “because you have to or I told you to.” The outcomes will be stronger.
So what do we need to have influence?
The first is TRUST
And the second is what Aretha preaches: R-E-S-P-E-C-T
They are common words that get tossed around. They take forever to grow and no time to kill.
How do you get these? I have a few ideas to share.
To DEVELOP RESPECT & BUILD TRUST
BECOME AN EXPERT
Know what you are talking about and want to accomplish.
Develop a deep understanding: do things like ask thoughtful questions, study on your own time, connect the dots between people and ideas.
The American poet Walt Whitman said “Be curious, not judgmental.”
I say BE TRULY CURIOUS to help open lines of communication and deepen relationships. This approach helps you explore the values, beliefs and needs behind behaviour and improves your understanding of other people’s perspectives and intents.
What if you’re new, starting out? Align yourself with those who are experts.
Anthony Iannarino (an author, speaker and “sales leader”) says listening is simply caring in action.
We need to stop moving our mouths and listen actively. Ask questions, concentrate, respond empathetically and remember. Remember details.
In his book, On Becoming a Person, psychologist Carl Rogers wrote, “Real communication occurs when we listen with understanding – to see the idea and attitude from the other person’s point of view, to sense how it feels to them, to achieve their frame of reference in regard to the thing they are talking about.”
Can we apply this to a farmer asking for advice on her Canada fleabane problem? Absolutely. Our response, advice and influence will have a greater impact.
When you care, it shows. More often than not, this motivates and influences people.
Caring is active, non-judgmental listening.
It’s minding the small interactions.
It’s being personal and looking for the positive emotions.
We are living in a time of self – self-care, self-love, selfies. To better understand how you work, self development is key.
A favourite of mine so far is:
For future professional development, I want to look into investigating my influencing style.
An article published in the Harvard Business Review in 2012 reported (https://hbr.org/2012/01/whats-your-influencing-style) up to five distinct influencing styles exist:
Rationalizing: Do you use logic, facts, and reasoning to present your ideas? Do you leverage your facts, logic, expertise, and experience to persuade others?
Asserting: Do you rely on your personal confidence, rules, law, and authority to influence others? Do you insist that your ideas are heard and considered, even when others disagree? Do you challenge the ideas of others when they don’t agree with yours? Do you debate with or pressure others to get them to see your point of view?
Negotiating: Do you look for compromises and make concessions in order to reach an outcome that satisfies your greater interest? Do you make tradeoffs and exchanges in order to meet your larger interests? If necessary, will you delay the discussion until a more opportune time?
Inspiring: Do you encourage others toward your position by communicating a sense of shared mission and exciting possibility? Do you use inspirational appeals, stories, and metaphors to encourage a shared sense of purpose?
Bridging: Do you attempt to influence outcomes by uniting or connecting with others? Do you rely on reciprocity, engaging superior support, consultation, building coalitions, and using personal relationships to get people to agree with your position?
Have you considered what your style is?
I believe my go-to style is BRIDGING and here’s an example. About 10 years ago, a colleague arranged an apple program between Bayer, farmers and a school in Guelph. Bayer would “pay” for a weekly bushel of apples with our crop protection products to the farmer. In return, each Saturday at the Guelph Farmers Market, my colleague would pick up the apples, take them home and deliver them to the public school on Monday morning before 8 a.m. A win, win, win.
When the reins were passed to me to continue the program, the logistics didn’t work great for me. I don’t make it to the Farmers Market every Saturday and getting to the school on Monday before 8 a.m. is almost impossible.
And here comes my bridging influencing style: I connected with the principal of the school, asking if a parent volunteer who frequents the market could pick up the apples and deliver them. I connected the farmer with the principal and the volunteer so they knew who would be picking up the apples. I introduced them, being present to ensure the exchange went as planned. In the end, it was the best possible outcome; the farmer gets paid, the kids get their apples and the logistics are handled by people who are directly associated.
There you have it: four simple ways to develop and maintain respect and trust, with the ultimate goal of influencing my customers.
And please don’t for a minute think I have perfected this. It’s about taking time to reflect, learning from mistakes, making improvements and seeing better outcomes because of a willingness to cooperate and engage by my “customers.”