On Leadership and Knowing Your Audience

Know Your Audience

Imagine this in your current role: You have taken a position on an issue that really matters to you. And you now need the backing of some of your key colleagues to turn your ideas into reality. 

So what should you be thinking at this point?

Leading Your Path to Success

In thinking about your next steps:

  • You recognise that without the active support of certain of your peer group or seniors you will find it a challenge to move head.
  • You decide that the best thing to do will be to speak with them so that you can take them through your thinking and influence them about the merits of your case.
  • Your arguments make total sense to you. You think they represent good value for your employing organisation, your teams and your customers.

But when it comes to speaking with your senior colleagues about the issues, you find that no one else gets it.  In fact, you are stumped by the degree to which they don’t get it.  As far as you are concerned, you put your case clearly, your arguments were robust and the benefits you described were crystal clear.

And yet still no one else around the table gets it…

Your views were dismissed outright by some of the leaders present and only considered in a shallow way by others.  You were baffled and still don’t know what happened.

On Knowing Your Audience

What could account for why a perfectly sound set of arguments fell on deaf ears?  Put simply, your ideas didn’t hit the spot because you didn’t position them carefully enough for them to appeal to your audience given their concerns, their priorities and their values.

Your plans appealed to you. But they didn’t appeal to your audience to the same degree because you:

  • Didn’t spend enough time at the start of the meeting positioning your proposals to appeal to your audience’s ears and not your own.
  • Didn’t manage the perceptions you created in the minds of your audience carefully enough.
  • Used the wrong arguments.
  • Started the discussion in the wrong place by going straight to your agenda instead of theirs. And, in this case, these two agendas were crucially different.

A Case in Point

Consider the following example:

A team leader decides to approach his boss and outline his plans to re-organise the management structure in his large customer-facing team.  The team leader involved is methodical, systematic and logical in his work style. He succinctly describes to his manager the inefficiencies in the current team structure, the ways in which these inefficiencies adversely affect customer service, and the ways in which they create challenges for inter-dependent teams.

None of this is news to his boss who is well aware of the shortcomings of the team structure. Then the team leader identifies the specific changes in the reporting lines which he wants to bring about, and tells his boss about these too. He is not expecting to have to argue the point. They’ve talked about these problems before, although this is the first time he has presented her with a solution.

He sees this discussion as a done deal and is simply amazed to discover that his arguments do not meet with his boss’s approval.

In fact, she moves the conversation on immediately to a series of other issues which are on her agenda telling her team leader that “This isn’t a good time to be making changes.

The team leader now faces a choice between asking her for more information about why she isn’t interested in his proposals, going ahead with his re-structure anyway and potentially incurring her displeasure, or dropping plans to which he is quite wedded.

Let’s Examine This…

So what happened? 

The boss regards her team leader as being somewhat into the detail and not strategic enough in the way he goes about his business. She has long held this view and has made it an issue between them several times, although never to the point of dismissing his plans before.

She is very much preoccupied with falling sales figures and the impact of the recession, issues which her team leader is aware of but which he hasn’t factored into his thinking sufficiently before he approaches her.  She thinks that her report isn’t bold enough or courageous enough in his plans for his team, doesn’t focus sufficiently well on new business development, and tends to make incremental changes which he values but which she doesn’t think add sufficient value to justify the amount of time it takes him to originate them.

As soon as he starts to speak about altering the reporting structure in his team she, being as preoccupied as she is, forms the view that he wants to make another series of small scale alterations which won’t add much overall value to her operation at a time when her figures are down, clients are not ordering in bulk, and the recession is affecting her revenue streams.

Given all these circumstances she thinks she could reasonably have expected some effective support from her report, and when she hears him wanting to take up her pressured and valuable time with another minor tweak, she switches off without really listening to him and moves the discussion on to other things.

From the point of view of her report, however, a number of issues have been raised. Each of the strengths of his proposition, in fact all of the compelling aspects of it as he would see it, were regarded as weaknesses by his boss to the point where she wouldn’t even consider them.  Instead of gaining political currency for his proactive problem-solving and customer focus, the team leader finds that he loses credibility with his boss in a situation in which they could reasonably have expected to gain it.

Positioning Your Plans and Proposals Effectively

So, what can he learn from this situation? 

  • He needs to think through what his plans and proposals will sound like – what they will mean – to his boss given her different style, values and priorities.
  • He knows she is highly focused on sales and worried about the impact of the recession on the organisation’s figures.  So, to gain her buy-in and appear to be up to speed as she sees it, he needs to start the meeting with his boss: with her current and longer term goals, her priorities on  that day and her concerns at the moment.
  • Having touched based with her and found out what is on her mind, he could then position his re-structure to appeal to her agenda.
  • He could say that while his plan might not bring in more business it will certainly enable existing customers to receive a more consistent and timely standard of service.
  • He could say that it would free up more of his team’s time to examine viable ways of adding value to the services they offer to their existing customers, and enable them to look for opportunities to sell add-on services to them.

Leading a Better Approach

Handling things this way will mean that he presents himself to his boss as someone who is on the same page as her, sharing the strain of getting the numbers up while also presenting himself as proactive and able at adding value to the operation. Using this approach will make it much more likely that he:

  • Avoids appearing out of touch with his manager’s reality.
  • Avoids a series of value judgments which his boss will make about him if she hears his plans as trivial or unimportant.
  • Gives himself the best chance of securing the endorsement of his boss to his proposals.

So, the next time you approach a key set of colleagues to secure their endorsement to your plans: think through how you can best link your proposals to the issues that sit at the top of their priority list so that you stand the best chance of getting the level of buy-in and active commitment you need.

Identify a situation in which you want to influence your peers or seniors to endorse your plans.  Who did you want to influence and in what way?  How will you position your argument with them? What key points do you plan to emphasise?  In what ways will these points appeal to them given their priorities and values?  Where do you want to start to meeting to have maximum influence?  What aspect of your proposals will appeal most strongly to your colleagues and how do you want to present these issues to them?

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——————–

Aryanne Oade is Director of Oade Associates
She is a Chartered Psychologist, executive coach, facilitator, author & speaker
Email | LinkedIn | TwitterWeb | Books | 00 44 (0) 7747 868 368

Image Sources: media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com

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