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The Secret Of How The Most Successful Execs Scale Their Careers

· Coaching,Influence,Impact

It was over lunch, in the busy whirl of Borough Market, that colleague John, referenced the most important feedback I had ever shared with him. The feedback for him was important to develop in his career – he needed to move from high impact to high influence. It reminded me of why I had been given this advice myself and that this is the secret of how the most successful execs grow their careers to the very top.

When I worked for Microsoft, managers at all levels were encouraged to assess ‘impact’. Staff consequently obsessed with what their impact had been when it came to performance reviews and promotion discussions. At a simple level, it makes sense as corporations, at some scale start to support ‘busy work’ and valuing impact over simply looking busy is a way to counter an unwanted behaviour.

At junior posts, showing that your work has impact is a way to make progress by differentiation from those that just turn up to collect a pay cheque. But there are limits to how far this will work for you, and as my most quotable boss (Steven) would say, “having impact is necessary, but not sufficient” and the reason for this is that influence is an exponential multiplier of impact.

If you are feeling your career is stalled or stagnant then I would invite you to consider if it is time to extend your impact into influence, here are some of the vectors many coachees find useful to consider:

  • Telling → Showing

  • Tactical → Strategic

  • In the middle → On the edge

  • Micro Managing → Role Modelling

The physical body of impact is typically resolute, in impact we know the journey, we are moving without deviation along that critical path. The language we use is imperative, sequential even binary. Emotionally, we are typically frustrated with interference, but excited with knocking off the tasks. To access our influencer we need to employ all three domains.

The body of influence is flexible, open, grounded but typically not resolute, why? Because to influence is to head off, to bend to move toward and it could be along an unknowable path. The influencer is much less concerned with the path or the journey, the vision of what might be possible opens multiple new, innovative pathways and requires great input, through research, discussion or hands on experience.

The language of influence is inclusive, simple and predictable. I chose predictable carefully here, it would be easier to say ‘trustworthy’ but predictable serves me better as it is something we can measure.

A leader, whose team can reliably predict their decisions and direction is beginning to influence (both for good or bad). By inclusive, I mean it must lack jargon or jingoistic terms that exclude parts of the audience.

Easy to fall into the trap here of wanting so much to be part of an elite that we use the coded language of that elite (I fail here often) but the trick is to reach beyond, stand confidently, and address all of our constituents. The emotion of influence includes urgency but is inspirational, visionary, all call to arms for some better future.

Explaining this last is usually the point that my clients, or even you the reader realise that this is for you, this is where you want to spend your energy, and leave the merely impactful behind.

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