Table of Contents
- Do you want to be more influential and impactful at work? Do you want to know what your organization needs from you the most and how to deliver it? If so, you might want to read this book by Bill Berman and George Bradt, two seasoned leadership and executive coaches who have helped thousands of professionals achieve their career goals.
- In this article, we will give you a summary and review of the book, highlighting its main ideas, insights and benefits. We will also share some of the tools and exercises that the authors provide to help you discover and excel at what your organization needs from you the most. Read on to find out how you can increase your influence and impact at work.
Influence and Impact (2021) offers a practical guide for professionals seeking to build their influence within organizations. Drawing on proven coaching techniques, it provides frameworks, stories, and solutions to help you evaluate your strengths, develop critical skills, and determine what roles will maximize your effectiveness.
Many outstanding leaders don’t get the acclaim they deserve. Bill Berman and George Bradt explain that these leaders may fail to put the necessary level of energy into important parts of their careers or they act in a way that doesn’t sync with their corporate culture. To increase your status and prominence, clarify your reasons for working and your mission. Understand why certain people or events require your presence, realize why you’re necessary and then apply that insight to earn the respect you deserve.
- Many skillful managers and leaders do not get acclaim or esteem for their work.
- Shift away from what you consider safe, and do what your organization requires.
- To increase their relevance, managers must understand their current responsibilities and set priorities.
- Recognize the framework in which you work.
- Create a profile of your position with all the overt and hidden parts of your role.
- Devise a plan to increase your effectiveness.
- To grow in an organization, focus on the particulars.
- If your job does not suit you, look for one that does.
- Create a more favorable identity in your organization.
Introduction: Upgrade and maximize your impact in the workplace
What if you could unlock greater career success and satisfaction without changing job titles or moving to a new company? For many professionals, influence and impact lie just out of reach, obscured by misconceptions about their role’s true priorities. And this prevents them from reaching their full potential.
But when you become aligned with your organization, a world of possibility opens up. You gain stakeholder buy-in, earn broader recognition, and position yourself for promotion.
So, how do you make that happen?
In this summary, we’ll look at some common pitfalls that may be preventing you from advancing your career. Then, we’ll explore a three-step process to maximize your impact through organizational alignment. Follow this framework and you can expect your influence to finally catch up with your talent. Let’s get you started on the pathway to greater success!
The professional alignment gap
It’s all-too common. Promising professionals struggle to gain influence with colleagues, despite their talent and capabilities. They work hard yet fail to receive the recognition and respect they deserve. Highly skilled and motivated, they still stall out, unable to affect meaningful change or progress in their roles. Promotions and praise consistently elude them. They suspect something vital is missing – and they’re right.
This disconnect between talent and career progression frequently stems from misalignment — a misalignment between one’s professional activities and the organization’s unspoken, yet critical, expectations and priorities.
Without a deep understanding of what the organization needs, professionals fail to grasp these implicit requirements for success. And as a result, they’re less impactful at work because they adopt a style that’s not suited to the culture, or they neglect responsibilities which are unstated, yet essential.
To progress and truly influence stakeholders, professionals must orient themselves around their company’s core priorities and cultural norms. They must contribute to strategic goals and maximize their potential, by grasping the organization’s unwritten rules.
Unfortunately, many organizations fail to explicitly communicate these crucial elements. Employees are left to divine the most important parts of their roles from vague job descriptions, and to understand the organization’s cultural mores gradually through observation.
But if you take the initiative to identify these implicit expectations, a world of influence and impact opens up for you.
Consider this simple example: Ian was a promising executive in a buttoned-up banking environment where business suits were the norm. While Ian did excellent work, he insisted on dressing casually. Unbeknownst to him, his maverick style was undermining his credibility with his more traditional-minded colleagues. Fortunately, a mentor intervened, directing Ian to align his wardrobe with the bank’s cultural norms. This small but crucial adaptation helped Ian’s influence catch up with his abilities.
We all want to contribute meaningful value to our workplaces. But despite our best intentions, many of us inadvertently act in ways – small or large – that reduce our influence and undermine our goals, just like Ian’s wardrobe did.
Let’s look at some of these pitfalls in the next section.
Three workplace traps to avoid
If professionals aren’t focusing on what’s most important to their organizations, what are they doing instead?
One common pitfall for managers is doing tasks themselves, instead of delegating them to their direct reports. Often, it can feel more efficient in the short-term to do the work yourself rather than delegate it to your team. Lower-level work often has clear beginnings and ends, like collating data for a presentation, so it provides a sense of task completion. After all, don’t they say that if you want something done right, you should do it yourself? If you can perform the task faster or better than someone else, then what’s the problem?
Well, there are several. Doing your team members’ jobs can make them feel undervalued and resentful. But more to the point, you’re not giving your team a chance to develop. Doing your team’s work stops you from teaching and coaching your direct reports. Your skills aren’t put to best use on lower-level work, and your team members won’t develop unless you give them the chance to tackle challenges themselves.
Another common pitfall is taking on tasks simply because they feel more familiar – or because you feel more competent at them. Relying only on past experience and knowledge from previous roles stops you from acquiring the new skills you need in a different role. You end up managing below your level or failing to utilize the full capabilities you were hired for.
Intuitive thinking means reverting back to established knowledge and experience from your prior roles and comfort zone. To escape this, you need to consciously identify which new skills you’ll need in your current role – and reflect on how you’ll gain them. If you’re mostly using instinct in a new job or role, you’re probably operating at too low a level or not thinking strategically enough.
To illustrate these points, let’s look at the story of Tommy.
Tommy was a business unit leader hired for his expertise across operations, technology, and business strategy. He was fast and competent – and he didn’t hesitate to jump in and solve problems for his team. Unfortunately, this caused his team to feel micromanaged and him to feel overworked.
Tommy’s boss brought in a coach who helped him realize he was avoiding the complex strategic work he lacked confidence in. The coach encouraged him to step back and let his team handle operational issues.
In doing so, he soon discovered that his team could find solutions themselves. Tommy was then able to focus on building senior relationships and addressing complex strategic challenges – the work his boss really needed him to do.
Let’s look at another common pitfall: rigidly sticking to your job description, or the job that you thought you were hired for.
In more stable, large companies, people often learn to strictly follow their job description, and become reluctant to take on responsibilities outside of it. Why is that? Well, they may feel it’s unfair to expect more than what was originally agreed to when they accepted the job. They might like predictability and order, and so resist ambiguity in their role. Or they may simply want to avoid criticism or discipline for straying “outside their lane”.
But strictly following a job description, and being unwilling to show flexibility, can prevent people from gaining influence in an organization and being seen as problem-solvers. Startups and companies in the midst of change often need people to tackle new challenges as they arise. When you rigidly stick to your job description, you miss out on the chance to contribute in a way that’ll make you highly valued by senior management.
For instance, Sarah was hired as a software trainer at a cloud technology company. Her role was to learn how the software worked and deliver training programs to end users. She enjoyed teaching others and found it gratifying when people learned new skills.
When the company was acquired, Sarah’s manager asked her to take on software implementation work in addition to training. Sarah politely but firmly refused, stating she was a trainer and didn’t want to do implementation work, which she found boring.
Sarah’s manager explained that for her to have enough training work, she needed to help with implementation as well. But Sarah refused again. Within three months, the demand for training decreased significantly, and Sarah was let go. By sticking rigidly to her job description and being unwilling to adapt to new organizational needs, Sarah had made herself redundant.
Now that we’ve looked at some common missteps, let’s find out how to get on the right track, so you can achieve greater influence.
Three steps to impact
To increase your influence and impact at work, you need to change your mindset in three key ways: accept your situation, relearn your value, and do the job most needed. Let’s take a look at each of these steps.
Firstly, accept your situation. Unfortunately, no one is fully in control of their job responsibilities. As we already discussed, many people wrongly assume that their role is what’s written in their job description. But in reality, everyone’s job requirements are shaped by multiple stakeholders – such as managers, HR, finance, and senior leaders. To have impact, you must accept that the job you thought you had may not actually be what your organization needs from you.
This can be challenging to face. However, it’s important to come to terms with the reality of not being fully in control. Everyone has hopes and expectations about their jobs. When those go unmet, you’ll likely feel frustrated, disrespected, and misled. While these emotions are normal, your first step is to accept them without immediately acting on them. You’re not obligated to stay in any job – but don’t let your prior expectations keep you from seeing the opportunities that your existing role offers.
In addition to this, accept that no one is perfect. All of us have flaws and room for improvement. While you can’t and shouldn’t force yourself to embrace values that don’t resonate with you, virtually every job will need you to be flexible in your behavior and expectations. Research shows that the ability to adjust is linked to successful job outcomes. Have the self-awareness to identify your growth areas, then commit to personal development.
The second step to creating impact is relearning your value; that is, rediscovering your unique strengths and potential impacts through self-assessment. Building self-awareness across multiple dimensions requires honest reflection and feedback. Spend time considering your technical and leadership skills, management competencies, interpersonal abilities, core values and motivations, and long-term career visions.
Some useful tools for self-assessment include 360 reviews, personality assessments, and values clarification exercises. The goal is to understand the complete package of who you are, what energizes you, and what you bring to the table. Rather than a checklist, approach self-examination with an open and growth-oriented mindset. Becoming aware of how you are perceived will let you rediscover your value and increase your ability to influence others. Keep long-term objectives in sight, and ensure your strengths and motivations align with your goals for the future.
The final step to achieving impact is: do the job most needed. To increase your influence, you’ll want to fully apply yourself to the job that your organization most needs, even if it doesn’t align perfectly with your own preferences.
Start by understanding the big picture. Your specific job requirements are shaped by your organization’s overall goals, resources and constraints. By gaining clarity on what the business needs, you’ll be able to decide what specific priorities your role should have.
But once again, having made that determination, you have a choice. Is this the right job for you? Given the actual responsibilities and organizational context, is this a role you truly want to be doing? Will it utilize your strengths and align with your motivations?
If so, what’s next is clear: focus on meeting organizational needs. Suppress your ego. Rather than focusing on what you prefer or find interesting, hone your efforts on delivering what will have the greatest impact.
To be clear, none of this implies that you should keep your head down and silently comply. You can – and should – speak up constructively with ideas and solutions, provided they support organizational objectives.
And of course, you might need to develop new skills to effectively meet the organization’s needs, even if those skills don’t come naturally out of your current strengths.
Let’s look at a story that illustrates these points.
Hélène lived in China, before attending graduate school and working in the US. Though her job required strategic thinking, she struggled to openly disagree with her boss, even when she thought his ideas were unrealistic. Her past experiences, upbringing, and cultural background led her to avoid disagreeing with a superior. Hélène sought and received professional coaching, focused on adapting her work style to her current Western context, and learned to speak up and challenge her manager when she disagreed with a proposal. Although confrontational communication didn’t align with her natural inclinations, she adapted in order to do the job her company needed.
To fulfill your organization’s most pressing priorities, you too may need to build capabilities outside your comfort zone. This could involve enhancing technical expertise, honing management tactics, adopting new interpersonal styles or expanding your strategic perspectives. Be willing to acknowledge and address your skill gaps. Dedicate time to practice and improve new behaviors that you’ve identified as valuable, and seek out training opportunities in these areas.
By developing the full range of skills your job demands – even those that don’t feel natural to you – you’ll demonstrate commitment to organizational needs over personal preferences, building your credibility, value, and influence within the organization.
Many skillful managers and leaders do not get acclaim and esteem for their work.
In the best cases, executives and employees find satisfaction in doing their part to shape their organization’s behavior. But, quite often, leaders and managers find they can’t influence their colleagues’ actions and choices. They sense that people don’t respect them enough, but they don’t know what to do about it.
Managers at all levels may be confused about which aspects of their jobs they should consider vital. As a result, they might neglect putting the requisite energy into the parts of their career that matter most. Or they could do the right work and still act in a way that is out of sync with their company culture.
“Many…competent, capable leaders and professionals do most of their work very well, but still feel they are struggling to get the rewards, recognition and growth that they are expecting.”
For example, Ian worked in a bank where everyone dressed formally. He dressed casually, not realizing that this made it hard for him to influence other bankers. Fortunately, his mentor, a senior executive, gave him a promotion, but he also told Ian to scrap his casual wardrobe. He took him shopping for a suit, so he could “look the part.”
Managers need to know what their organizations want and require. Managers must understand the subtle, often undocumented aspects of their work and their organizational culture.
Shift away from what you consider safe, and do what your organization requires.
So what factors can impede an employee from doing what a company needs? Most often, employees do not act in ways their higher-ups understand or appreciate.
For example, managers often take on tasks they should delegate to their subordinates because they feel they can do the work faster. Managers who follow this practice fail to build up other employees’ capabilities and may bog down their career path in busy work.
“What we have found, again and again, is that people tend to underperform because they do what is comfortable, what is familiar or what they desire, rather than what is most important to the organization.”
People who have a new job or assignment often feel uneasy about the functions they must perform. Awash with uncertainty, they may look back and perform practices they mastered in a previous position, thus impeding their development and advancement.
To increase their relevance, managers must understand their current responsibilities and set priorities.
People often believe they need to perform the exact role specified in their job description. They believe they are party to an implicit agreement with their superiors and their company. Employees believe that what they expect from their organization matches what the firm accepts as its obligation to them – this is part of your “psychological contract with your organization.”
Unlike a conventional written contract, psychological contracts lack definition, and change frequently. You may find it disorienting to realize your organization expects something different from you than what you think your job entails.
“The first step to increasing your influence and impact is developing a clear understanding and acceptance of your situation as it is currently. Most people erroneously believe that the role they need to do is what is in their job description.”
Most managers in large hierarchical organizations must accept they have little control over their jobs. But you can rediscover your value by really understanding the importance of your competencies. Highlight areas in which you perform exceptionally well. Consider which issues you find challenging. Think about the principles that help you make choices when things get complicated.
You might not have the power to decide everything you do at work, but you can determine what you will do first, how much energy you put into different tasks and how you feel about your work.
Clarify your reasons for working. Determine your mission by considering the people or situations that require your presence. Consider why they need you and what you must do to meet their needs.
Be prepared to undertake a process of inquiry to discover your mission. For example, consider Richard and Michelle Laver, who set up a company that sells nutritional foods – Kate’s Farms Komplete Shakes.
Their daughter, Kate, had cerebral palsy and could not eat most conventional food. The Lavers decided to develop foods that would make their daughter feel better. Like the Lavers, ordinary people often take on a mission to resolve a challenge they’ve seen other people face. As the Lavers pursued this path and developed their business, they kept their daughter’s needs central, and found great purpose in their work.
What you would like to do over the next five to 10 years? Visualize the future as you would like to see it. Think about your work and personal life. In your imagined future, consider how you got there.
Recognize the framework in which you work.
Adrián worked in a law firm with the prospect of becoming a senior partner. Employees below the rank of partner valued the way he worked and appreciated his willingness to help them. However, his manager wanted him to take a more strategic view and bring in more clients. Adrián doubted whether he had the heft the firm expected of partners, yet as he began to do what partners do, he recognized that his desire to become a partner had merit. That, in turn, made him more confident.
“Control, autonomy and the need for respect are major motivators for people. The higher you move in an organization, the more likely you are to find people who value independence and self-determination.”
Managers need to recognize the framework in which they work and determine the nature of their jobs. Then, they must decide whether they feel comfortable with their job requirements and how they can grow within – and perhaps beyond – that setting.
Create a profile of your position with all the overt and hidden parts of your role.
To discover the essence of why your company needs you, learn what your organization considers of primary importance. Senior executives can access this information from their company’s strategic plans. Managers lower down the corporate ladder might draw on previously published material.
Start with your organization’s mission and vision. Ascertain its business strategy. Try to get a firmer sense of its culture. Your manager plays a pivotal role in your career, so ask him or her why the company hired you and what the firm wants from you. Determine which of your colleagues plays a crucial role in your success.
“Identify who your key stakeholders are. You have people in your direct line – above you are your manager and your manager’s manager, below you are your direct reports and their reports.”
After gathering this information, set aside time to define your business’s essential practices. That, in turn, will tell you where you should put more emphasis, what methods you should refrain from employing and when you should try another approach. Using this tactic, you can discern what your business considers essential and gain insight into the subtle, unspoken cultural norms that influence your work.
Summarize what you consider critical background knowledge for your job and its context. Keep your objectives in mind. Create a thorough profile of your position that includes both the overt and hidden parts of your role.
For example, the organization could expect you to boost sales, make marketing more effective and revamp the website. You could also need to burnish your boss’s reputation and build links across the organization. Once you get a sense of what your position requires from you, decide whether you want the job.
Devise a plan to increase your effectiveness.
Corporations plan for the future. Once they formulate their mission and the approach they intend to follow, they devise tactics to move from the current reality to the place they aspire to be. You need to build plans for yourself and examine whether you need to alter your goals and actions.
Once you commit to your organization and your job, devise a “working mission.”
“Turn [your job’s] most relevant values into more specific guidelines for yourself in your role. If, for example, you say you value collaboration, your way of working might be, ‘Build alignment with all key stakeholders before making mission-critical decisions’.”
Your working mission must assist your organization’s mission, but needn’t be identical. Your working mission should provide a bird’s-eye view of what you hope to achieve and how you intend to play a more pivotal role. Be sure it aligns with your manager’s mission.
Consider which principles – such as attainment or awareness – you consider most important. Determine which of these principles has an essential role in your work. You could find your path easier if your firm or your team accepts these values. With this awareness, you can codify your practices and make them function as your mode of work, using them as pointers about how you want to act deliberately in your role.
To grow in an organization, focus on the particulars.
If you do something extraordinary, your colleagues may expect you to do it again. Instead, you may want to build your abilities by taking small, consistent steps that shape you as a person. Increasing your influence within your organization requires consistent work with that goal in mind.
Change your tactics if you run into unforeseen obstacles. Seek support from your superiors, and ask them to evaluate your plans and provide their insights. If you steadily and successfully take on more responsibility, your colleagues will accept that you will do what you say. In time, these responsibilities will become part of your job.
Figure out ways to approach issues that confront your business, your managers and other stakeholders. Let your manager know that you would like him to assign you the kind of work that sparks your strategic ideas.
“Similar to taking responsibility for what your team produces, supporting decisions your team makes in public is an essential element of building trust and engagement.”
Seeking to take on more work can pose risks. Some colleagues could question your reasons. However, you will benefit from this approach because it will spur your manager to give you more responsibility.
If your job does not suit you, look for one that does.
After making every effort to find advancement, meaning and status in your job, you may have to accept that it doesn’t match your hopes. This can be daunting and upsetting. If luck favors you, you will recognize this misalignment swiftly. Many people achieve this clarity only after putting in a lot of time and effort at the wrong job or firm.
You also could experience emotional turmoil if your employers terminate you. Choosing to quit can provoke disturbing feelings, akin to what you would confront with any major loss. You may have to abandon some of your aspirations. The more significant the amount of time you spent at your job, the longer you will have to work through this grieving process.
Create a more favorable identity in your organization.
To succeed in your current role, find an approach that capitalizes on your capabilities and what your organization requires. Pair your mission, your goals over the long term and your best definition – or aspiration – for your job.
Seeking help from others within the organizationcan help you develop a more incisive analysis. Start with your managers and their superiors. They will have a deeper understanding of the organization and can point you in the most effective direction.
“In general, endings can be hard, even when you want them. At the simplest level, your habits and routines are upended.”
Consider the nature of the job and the context in which you’d like to work. Be sure the contours of the job match your talents. Examine which of your skills plays an essential part in positions that appeal to you. Would like to work in an environment where your colleagues become your friends? Or would you like to keep your friends separate from work? Are you a leader or a follower?
Seek an opportunity where your strengths match the needs of the organization. Consider Jane Fraser, the president of Citi and chief executive of its Global Consumer Banking division, who will become Citi’s first female CEO. Citi selected her because of the insights she gained while writing her book, Race for the World: Strategies to Build a Great Global Firm.
Citi moved Fraser through several positions to help her to develop the competencies to lead the bank out of the COVID-19 pandemic and to define its hazy future. Like Fraser, see if you can acquire new capabilities and talents even if you do not aspire to head a global organization. Do not wait for your company to provide options. Take charge, and learn new skills.
You will find that discovering new opportunities is more manageable if you and your superiors agree on a long-term plan for your career. For example, they may decide you should acquire some specific additional expertise. Then you know to be on the lookout for suitable projects and training programs.
To succeed, professionals must continually evolve. Early in your career, your natural talent and motivation might have been enough. But to keep moving forward, you’ll need greater alignment – both with the organization, and with your own strengths and passions.
This alignment doesn’t happen by accident. It requires intention, self-awareness, and a willingness to grow. The job you thought you had may not be the job you’ve actually got. If so, it’s your job to discover its true nature!
Once you have, assess your abilities and clarify your core motivations. If you still think the job is for you, focus hard on doing what’s most needed, even if that means building new skills or taking on unfamiliar roles.
Adaptability is key to your continued relevance. By remaining flexible and committing to your ongoing development, you can shift a stalled career into high gear.
About the Authors
Bill Berman established and heads Berman Leadership Development. George Bradt is chairman of PrimeGenesis, which specializes in executive and team onboarding.
Career Success, Business, Management, Leadership, Career Development, Self-Help, Personal Growth, Communication, Negotiation, Change Management, Organizational Behavior
The book is a practical guide for professionals who want to increase their influence and impact at work. The authors, who are experienced leadership and executive coaches, provide a clear framework for evaluating what values, strengths and capabilities one brings to their role, how to develop new skills to enhance their influence, and how to determine if they are in the right place to have the greatest impact.
The book is divided into three parts: Discover, Excel and Impact. In the first part, the authors help the reader discover their personal brand, their core values, their strengths and their areas of development. In the second part, the authors explain how to excel at the four dimensions of influence: credibility, competence, confidence and connection. They also provide tools and techniques for improving one’s communication, collaboration, negotiation and leadership skills. In the third part, the authors show how to align one’s influence and impact with the needs and expectations of their organization, their boss, their peers and their direct reports. They also offer advice on how to navigate organizational politics, manage change and deal with conflict.
The book is a valuable resource for anyone who wants to advance their career and make a positive difference in their organization. The authors combine their expertise and experience with relevant research and real-life examples to illustrate their points.
The book is easy to read and follow, with clear explanations, helpful diagrams and actionable exercises. The book is also adaptable to different situations and contexts, as the authors encourage the reader to customize their approach based on their own goals, preferences and circumstances.
The book is not only informative, but also inspiring, as the authors share their own stories and insights, as well as those of their clients and colleagues, to demonstrate the power and potential of influence and impact.