Three Secrets to Building Your Influence, Part 1, Competence

Three Secrets to Building Your Influence, Part 1, Competence

If you want to change anything in your organization, you need to influence at least one other person to succeed.

Mary, a leader in the organization, wanted to help her colleagues consider a variety of agile approaches. The organization had chosen a framework, and the framework wasn't serving their needs.

Mary knew there were three prerequisites to building influence:

  • Other people believing in her competence—especially since she was challenging their designated agile approach,
  • Other people trusting her, and
  • Developing shared interests with others.

This part (of a three-part series) is about competence. The next two parts are about trust and developing shared interests.

There are three typical ways to show your competence:

  1. You can claim competence.
  2. Other people can vouch for you
  3. People see your results.

Let's start with claiming competence.

Possibility 1: Claim Your Competence

When we claim competence, we say things such as, “I did this in this context, and I had these outcomes.” Especially if you tell stories of when you succeeded, and when you failed, people might believe you. There are two reasons for their belief in you: the stories of both successes and failures.

We are hardwired to understand stories. We understand the arc of a story. We understand Good Guys and Bad Guys. We even understand when people feel the culture forcing them into the role of a Bad Guy when they want to be a Good Guy. (For me, “Guy” is a generic term.)

That's why stories are so powerful.

Mary had plenty of stories to tell. And, she was a little worried about telling other people about her successes and failures. She decided to enlist the help of Dan, her boss. That's because the stories we tell about ourselves are not as powerful as the stories other people tell about us.

Possibility 2: Other People Vouch for Your Competence

Dan had worked with Mary previous to this organization. He was impressed with her adaptability and resilience in the face of many obstacles to that organization's agile transformation.

In preparation for Mary's desire to help her peers see agile alternatives, he started to seed the organizations with stories about what Mary had done.

  • He explained that Mary had helped one team change their board at least four times, until the team had a board that worked.
  • He told about a time when Mary had helped a senior manager realize the manager used a form of personal kanban, complete with WIP limits (Work in Progress limits).
  • He even explained when Mary had only had partial success with one team, but when the organization stopped that project and the team members move to other projects, all those people were much more successful using agile ideas.

As Dan told these stories, people started to respect their ideas more–and especially, Mary's roles in these stories. A couple of people were willing to consider changing their agile approaches. However, the senior managers who wanted to standardize on one approach–they were not so convinced.

That's when Dan and Mary showed their current results.

Possibility 3: Show Your Results

As a VP, Dan was “exempt” from using an agile approach. However, he happened to like kanban for his management work. He freely admitted he was not so good at managing his WIP. Mary used kanban for her personal work, and a cadence with the agile transformation team. The cadence looked like iterations. (If you're not sure of the difference, please read Thinking About Cadence vs. Iterations.) (If you want to know more about your choices for an agile approach, see Create Your Successful Agile Project.)

Because the transformation team did not force their work into two-week timeboxes, the team was able to capitalize on opportunities, even as they maintained a cadence of planning and retrospectives. And, the transformation team was able to show their results, sometimes, as often as once a week.

As a result, those managers who'd wanted to standardize on one specific agile framework? They were more open to seeing agile alternatives.

Mary and Dan hadn't yet influenced those senior managers' minds. Mary and Dan still needed to build more trust and develop shared interests. Look for those emails in the next few weeks. (I'm planning on emailing every two weeks to write this series.)

Learn with Johanna

If you want to practice your influence, please consider joining Gil Broza and me at the Influential Agile Leader, May 6-7, 2020 in Boston. You'll learn by practicing and discussing your challenges with like-minded colleagues. You have until Feb 29, 2020 for the best possible rates. Questions? Email me.

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Here are links you might find useful:

Till next time,


© 2020 Johanna Rothman

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