GHC 19: Exerting influence without authority

Session led by Aimee Cardwell at the Grace Hopper Celebration 2019

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Agenda of the session “Exerting influence without authority, by Aimee Cardwell.

I just came back from the Grace Hopper Conference 2019, it has been such an inspiring experience! The Grace Hopper Conference is is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists (we were over 25,000 this year!), AnitaB.org co-presents GHC with the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM).

I was very inspired by the session led by Aimee Cardwell, Vice President of Consumer Product Development at American Express. She has over 20 years of experience building and shipping globally branded mobile experiences and websites for companies such as Expedia, eBay, Netscape, and Sega. I enjoyed hr engaging session, and how knowledgeable in leadership and influence skills she is. Here are the notes I took from Cardwell’s session at GHC19:

Leadership vs. Authority

Titles are overrated. You will always have somebody above you, and you don’t need to have a title to give orders. Is important to make a distinction between authority and leadership:

“Leadership is not about a title or a designation, is about impact, influence and inspiration”-Robin Sharma.

Getting things done through other people is influence and leadership.

Here is the action plan to become a leader:

1 | Expertise influence

Give people a reason to believe in their opinion and influence. Express opinions, and challenge others to share their points of view, to be able to come up with pros and cons. The benefit of doing this is that it will allow you to learn how to interact at any level with multiple people. By interacting with others and gathering knowledge, soon you will be seen as the subject matter expert.

“Is not about what you know, is who knows what you know”

2 | Accountability

To gain accountability, deliver more than asked for, speak up in meetings, take ownership, give and receive feedback. Feedback is a powerful tool: by giving positive feedback to others will make you look accessible, believable and authentic. By providing positive feedback, you will let others feel comfortable and open up around you. This is crucial to help you gather information from others and to shift the focus from negative to positive in the room. On the same note, react well to feedback and use a growth mindset to take it in a non-defensive way, and learn from it.

“Being able to receive feedback in a way not defensive is the best superpower”

3 | Build a network

Cardwell said: “Networking is like exercising, at the very worst case becomes a habit, and in the best case, it is kind of fun!”. To build a network, be curious, ask questions, and make new people joining your team comfortable. Some examples of interactions to start a network are the following: “How are your couple of days going?” “How are you feeling about the company?” “Can I help you with something?” “What kinds of use cases do you have?” “Can you tell me more about what you do?”

4| Build a coalition

10 people advocating for a change will always be more powerful than one. Draft with the coalition a proposal that helps others who join the coalition to quickly ramp up. The proposal can be much richer and stronger if everyone in the coalition writes it.

TIP: Having the big meeting to propose your idea too early is the most likely way to get a NO. Is really hard to get around a NO in a big meeting, so plan the timing of it carefully.

5| Co-Creation

Use your coalition to visit every single stakeholder individually. Learn from the negative points they bring up and little by little work on improving the proposal to make it more robust.

Let your coalition member get credit and ownership on the proposal, and allow the group to take credit as a whole. First, find the stakeholders and the influencers and put yourself in their shoes. Then tell them about the problem of your proposal, collect feedback and co-create.

6 | The big YES meeting

You have to set up a meeting with everyone in the same room because you want everybody to see each other say yes. This is imperative for the proposal to successfully end up being implemented. Use this meeting as an opportunity to highlight the next steps and leave the room with a plan to action.

Other thoughts:

Influence helps with executing your ideas, propose changes and to make the most of your efforts. Every step of the plan to action is necessary, and remember that things will take time. A big proposal, from conception to execution could easily be 6–10 months long.

Next steps to start becoming an influencer:

Notes from the Q&A

Leaders are made, and with practice, everyone could become influential.

How to deliver feedback for our teams? To give great feedback, do it more regularly than in peer reviews every 6 months. Use language that helps not focusing on the negative, but on growing and improving: “I think you can be more effective by doing this…”.

Let everybody else have the credit, it would end uplifting you. If you claim the fact that you are the leader, you will end up looking full of yourself. Let your coalition take the credit and they will likely want to keep working with you. Might be tempting wanting to keep the sole credit, however, developing these followers and building relationships is what will help you build your influence in the long run.

The calmest person in the room is often seen as a leader. It is hard not to get defensive, but the more you can do that, the fastest you will grow.

Written by

From journalist in Barcelona to UX designer in Seattle. Currently designing the future of Cloud Computing in the Azure Team at Microsoft.

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