A good friend of mine is a partner at an architect firm and about 18 months ago she moved overseas to launch a new regional arm of the firm. On her last visit to Sydney, I asked her how her time there had been and how she felt about what she’d achieved so far. I knew she’d had a busy year, spending lots of time in planes traveling between Europe, the US, Asia and Australia and so I was curious to hear how it was all going. Interestingly enough, she said she didn’t really feel like she’d done much work - she’d spent the whole year meeting people and getting their interest and engagement around the new firm. About 200 people across the region, she said. I don’t think she’d really reflected much about the enormity of the work she had done and so she corrected her earlier statement about not feeling like she’d done much to, “geez, that’s pretty good then, isn’t it?”.
I’d say so. To mobilise 200 people and get them interested and engaged around working with your new firm is a bit better than ‘pretty good’! It also raises 3 interesting principles around stakeholder engagement:
Stakeholder engagement takes time
In our world where we’re so crunched for time, we’re constantly looking for ways to be more productive and do more with less. We now text and IM at work because it’s quicker than walking across the floor to ask a colleague a question. We implement technologies like Microsoft Teams so that you can broadcast information and share wins across the team without trying to corral everyone into a team meeting. But the thing is, you can’t shortcut relationships. Especially with people that matter. You need to meet with them, meet with them regularly and you need to be prepared for every interaction. You need to invest in the relationship in order for them to work for you.
You need to meet with the ‘right' stakeholders
There are many of us (me included) that love nothing more than talking with and helping people. This is particularly true for women in finance: I often hear my clients say, "I just want to help people!". We don’t really discriminate - we’d be happy to talk with anyone as long as they’re a good person. However, the reality is that the precious resources of time and energy mean that we need to make sure that (in the main) we’re meeting with the people and stakeholders that will progress our cause: whether it be our career, a business project, or a foundation or charity we’re passionate about. Often the hardest part is knowing who these stakeholders are and finding a way in.
It’s not about you, but it sort of is.
I’ve written in the past about how influence and stakeholder engagement is all about putting their needs and desires at the core: so you can move your relationship from transactional to impactful, where you have influence and leverage. This is 100% true: the underlying principle of ‘what’s in it for them’ still stands. That said, you need to show up in a way that makes them sit up and listen to you. In a way that moves your coffee meeting from a ‘lovely catch-up’ to a ‘lovely catch-up that was both meaningful and productive': it’s a bit like the difference between a weak latte and a strong flat white. You need to have executive presence.
Often this is what trips us up, because we focus on ‘what’ we’re going to say and spend less time concerned with ‘how’ you’re going to say it. Because you're one of the only women around the table, you feel extra pressure to know the facts and the answer to the questions that they may ask, for fear they think you're not smart enough. If you do think about the 'how', it's easy to overcompensate, to ensure you're not branded as 'soft'. It is a fine balance that we need to get right (and at an advanced level, know how to flex across the spectrum in the moment if needed).
Executive presence is the key to encourage people to listen and get on board to help.
So if I were to ask you about your week, and what you felt you'd achieved, what would you say?
Did you achieve what you had set out to achieve this week?
Did you spend most of your time meeting with the right people?
Were you having the sorts of conversations you need to be having to progress your cause?
On a scale of 1-10, what was your level of executive presence?
What would you tell me? I’d love to hear... Amplify your influence with your stakeholders.
I invite you to shift your possibilities this year.
Increase your executive presence.
Amplify your Influence.
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