It was a long diatribe from a frumpy secretary that set the manager thinking. She had come to him to clear up some matter that was troubling her boss, but instead sat down and began to relate her own problems. "Look at me, I have to deal with people across levels from the peon and the courier chap to accounts, administration, my boss's boss, it's never ending," she said.
The manager realised he too faced similar issues in a different context. He also dealt almost hourly with multiple layers of people, including overseas colleagues, involving them in whatever needed to be done, even though none of them reported to him.
The ability to influence those over whom a manager has no direct authority is a vital cog that keeps corporate wheels moving towards goal achievement. "It is critical today for people to be effective while dealing with cross-functional teams," says Mitali Bose, Practice Leader, Managing Consultant, Hay Group.
It is a big challenge in many organisations. "Many companies come to us seeking training in this skill-set for their mid and senior level managers," says Anupam Sirbhaiya, Regional Director, India, Centre for Creative Leadership.
The skill-set becomes increasingly important for young managers as they rise to higher positions and have a larger set of interactions to factor into their key responsibility areas. According to HR experts, it helps to map your work environment thus:
Every manager has a dominant personal style which impacts the nature and extent of his influence. Leading management thinkers believe authenticity is most important - the style must be one that conveys the manager's sincerity.
"It is your most precious commodity, and you'll lose it if you attempt techniques that don't fit your strengths," says Marcus Buckingham in 'Leadership Development in the Age of the Algorithm', published in the June issue of Harvard Business Review.
Even seasoned leaders sometimes get so drunk on their own power, they fail to acknowledge there could be others just as powerful. It is important to take stock of key people at different levels whose cooperation is needed to get work done.
UNDERSTAND PEOPLE'S HOT BUTTONS:
Once you have figured out the above, you need to understand each one's dominant style. Some like to be persuaded, others want to know what is in it for them, still others work only when inspired by a larger goal.
I suggest those grappling with this challenge pick up a copy of Gary Yukl's Flexible Leadership. They should also reflect on the various styles of interaction they see around them. Many people have a combination of interaction styles - that includes autocratic, collaborative, negotiating and inspiring approaches - which complicates matters.
There are tools available to help you develop this skill as well. These include the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation-Behaviour technique, popularly called FIRO-B, developed in 1958 by William Schutz.