[Editor’s Note--March 8, 2018 is International Women's Day, a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. To mark this year’s event, F5's Shallu Behar-Sheehan comments on how influence impacts the workplace, and what it means for her career.]
In light of International Women’s Day, motivating and uniting friends, colleagues, and communities are more important than ever. This day belongs to us all. We are all the byproduct of others’ influence—and while the global response to #MeToo, #TimesUp and #PressForProgress has been inspirational—there is still much work to do. As such, this March 8th, I wanted to focus my message on utilizing influence to help drive progress. The influence of power is swift and short-term, but the power of influence can be everlasting.
To be someone of influence, you need belief in a cause and a drive to motivate others for the greater good. Throughout my career, I have been in situations where I needed to challenge the conventional, disrupt the delusional, and navigate through the ‘noise.’ Sometimes this made me less than the most popular person in the room but taking the easy or safe route (while comfortable) is rarely the best approach for you or your professional growth, nor does it create opportunities for you to either aggregate influence or use your influence for change. As I gained influence, I used that capital to push a message of inclusivity—creating safe environments for good ideas to shine through. Male or female, we need to redress the balance to give all teammates a fair platform to succeed.
Stereotypes are there to be broken, especially those that impact lives and hamper careers. Remain faithful to your unique and original self. But that said, you need to stay relevant to make a difference. You need to push boundaries and involve talent from all areas of the business. By developing your influential style, you can help others to consider alternative ways to improve projects and enhance strategies. Building your brand profile cultivates relationships and lays the foundation to gain respect from people that will follow your lead.
As a testament to the commercial power of influence, Michelle Phan, an American-Vietnamese make-up entrepreneur and widely-followed YouTube personality, said, “Influence is the new power—if you have influence, you can create a brand.” She went on to explain how 87% of women today trust credible YouTube influencers over hackneyed celebrity ads and endorsements.
I work in technology, a traditionally male-dominated industry, but I am encouraged by the fact that the spotlight on equality has helped to inspire a wider diversity of young, entrepreneurial talent to thrive. Nevertheless, there is still significant room for improvement. The 2017 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO survey shows that just 9 percent of senior IT leadership roles are held by women. We all need to be asking ourselves how we can inspire a better balance in the boardroom.
The indices of influence
Throughout your career, you will face many challenges and obstacles. There is a profound difference between management and leadership, especially in terms of the way people think.
Influence is a skill. It needs to be nurtured and valued. In my view, its main and multifaceted purpose is to inspire, empower, inform, educate, and challenge the three cousins of corporate sin—perceptions, assumptions, and misconceptions.
To be an effective leader is to rise above corporate status, rank, or title. It is about achieving a positive impact on people and inspiring others to succeed and think long-term. It is about integrity and gaining trust from fellow colleagues.
Amber Hurdle, author of The Bombshell Business Woman: How to Become a Bold, Brave, and Successful Female Entrepreneur, recently wrote, “By not stepping into your greatness, you are letting down everyone around you whom you can inspire, touch, or influence.”
Banging the old corporate drum with an authoritarian stick is just playing second fiddle to failure. Like a finely tuned instrument, influence must be mastered with finesse and artistry. Now is the time to get in tune with a new way of working.
Shake up the corporate tree
Getting the best results from stakeholders across the workplace can be initiated in surprising ways. For example, how can a new graduate employee have more influence than a senior executive? Young talent can bring new skills, fresh ideas, and the latest in tech thinking. They are not constrained by decades of disciplines and formulaic thinking.
When our minds are uninhibited by old methods, the strength of creative agility and the willingness to adapt quickly can have enormous influence across the organisation. Shaking up the hierarchical corporate tree can force a few unsuspecting leaders to fall out clutching their somewhat bruised egos.
I dedicate this blog to my team—unique thinkers that operate with a strong voice and appreciate that influence is the path to progress. As a partner for International Women’s Day, F5 joins other organizations around the world to issue a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Join us and share your own commitment to #PressForProgress.