First-class coach

I know I'm capable of doing a more senior job, but I've been told I've been blocked for promotion because I'm too forthright in my views and 'don't take people with me'.

by Miranda Kennett

How do you do that?

A: I sense irritation in your question, as well as resignation that, despite your competence and success to date, acquiring influencing skills is a hoop you are going to have to jump through to gain the promotion you want.

Ironically, some of the skills and elements of personal style that propelled you forward in your career have now become obstacles to your advancement.

At a more junior level, people who know their own mind are decisive and can argue their corner strongly. They are the ones often identified as having leadership potential. Such skills can be valuable when your main responsibility is your own performance. But when you attain a more senior role requiring you to lead and manage others, different skills and abilities are called for to achieve your desired outcome.

There's a word for people who impose their own views on those around them, reject advice and information that conflicts with their preconceptions and ignore the negative consequences of their actions. It's 'dictator'. Happily, dictators are a dying breed. Such behaviour is sustainable only if you have absolute power, and with such a broad range of stakeholders in the private and public sectors, the opportunities to wield despotic power are limited.

To bring people with you, you must listen to them, understand their point of view and take account of the emotional as well as the rational underpinning of the situation. It involves finding the triggers that inspire and motivate others, many of whom might differ from you in temperament. It necessitates a move from a personal win (your argument prevailed) to an organisational win (together we made the best decision).

Taking account of other people's views can be quite a challenge. It's not a question of being wishy-washy and suspending your critical faculties.

It means being open to the fact that a good idea can come from anywhere and that, even if a view seems stupid to you, whoever put it forward did so in good faith. So next time you are in a discussion with someone whose line of argument clashes with your own, make yourself appreciate what's good in that person's idea. Instead of using your logic to bash the idea down, see how you can build on it so it becomes stronger.

If you recognise that the basic idea is strong but there are elements you don't agree with, try asking facilitative questions such as: 'I understand the goal in your suggestion, but how can we make it happen quicker/more cheaply/avoid the potential conflict with this group?' Genuinely listening to the answers will do one of three things: you'll become convinced that your objection isn't really valid; you'll demonstrate to your team member that their approach has some flaws and needs developing or ditching; or it will open up new possibilities to be explored jointly.

If, after this, you still don't agree, at least you will know more about why your colleague holds that view and what might change their position.

Emotion plays a strong part at all levels of business and politics. Stop and think about how you feel, especially the resentment you harbour about being found wanting in your management skills. How might that emotion get in the way of your learning new skills? Look back at your working life to see how positive you felt when someone praised you or thanked you for your small part in achieving something important. I'm sure you'll find examples of managers who 'brought you along' with them, perhaps moving you from hostile opposition to enthusiastic support. Try unpacking how they did it and sift out approaches to add to your own repertoire.

Of course, if you are to change the views of the gatekeepers who stand between you and your promotion, you'll need to show them that you have changed. Next time you're asked for your views, put forward a number of options and talk about your favoured route. This will demonstrate that you've thought around the issue and taken on board the possible consequences for the people who have to implement it.

Great leaders consult widely before making up their mind. If you're confident enough to admit that your ideas could be improved by the input of others and create the circumstances where this can happen, there's no reason why you shouldn't rise up the organisation.

Miranda Kennett is an independent coach.

If you have an issue you'd like her to cover, e-mail:

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