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How influence provides a competitive advantage

Being an influencer, both within and outside of your firm, could be the key to success in the technological age, writes Michelle Gibbings.

user iconStefanie Garber 12 May 2016 SME Law
Michelle Gibbings
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Technological disruption is driving a wave of change so great that the World Economic Forum has termed it the fourth industrial revolution.

It is predicted that this change will blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres, and fundamentally change the way we live and work.

It’s not surprising that companies, both big and small, are on a drive to respond to this – across all sectors of their business.


But these advances in technology are creating a working environment that is more, not less complex.

As a lawyer you see and experience these changes first hand, either in your organisation or as you advise clients dealing with change.

You are expected to deliver more results for your clients, in a faster time frame and with fewer resources. The end result is a working environment that is more complex and bureaucratic. There are endless meetings, countless stakeholders to consult and shifting goal posts. This creates the inevitable sense of busyness, often with little progress to show.

Why? Because it’s hard to get things done. It’s hard to navigate the complexity, and manage the competing demands for your time.

The antidote to this dilemma – attaining the competitive advantage of being able to influence.

This is not self-serving influence. Rather it’s focused on ensuring balanced outcomes, considering the needs of all stakeholders.

To do that, you need the optimal mix of technical and behavioural skills. Being a technically brilliant lawyer is one thing, but it’s not the foundation on which to build a platform for influence.

Successful lawyers know how to influence. They know how to get things done through other people and are aware of the environment in which they are operating. They know how to use their personal power to secure outcomes enabling them to cut through the noise, get traction and make change happen. This creates competitive advantage in the workplace.

In contrast, those who can’t influence become ‘out of the loop’ on issues that matter. Uninvolved in critical decisions. Their voice goes unheard.

All of which makes it harder for them to get things done. And lawyers who can’t deliver results, don’t progress.

This affects their career, but also has an impact on those around them. A 2010 Harvard study found that a lack of progress is one of the biggest de-motivators in the workplace.

People want to feel they are making progress on work that matters, and that their manager ‘has their back’. If their manager is powerless to influence outcomes, this affects the team’s morale.

You can’t rely on traditional hierarchies to get things done. The organisational dynamics are different. It’s important to understand who influences whom, how decisions are made and what avenues exist to make progress and influence outcomes.

This is about understanding the influencing factors operating in the ‘organisational system’ and having the nous to find the ‘the back door’ and leverage the informal networks though which decisions are often made.

Professionals who can influence, know themselves and what motivates their behaviour, just as much as they understand others. They’re able to manage their own behavioural responses.

In doing this, they take ownership of their personal power. This is power that is derived from within, and is consciously acquired. When a person has the right behavioural skill set they can be more confident to hold their own with their peers and more senior stakeholders. This creates personal power, and in turn, generates influence.

If lawyers want to step up and progress in today’s complex and changing world they need to be able to influence.

Michelle Gibbings is a change and leadership expert and founder of Change Meridian, as well as the author of Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work.