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GHC16 Profesional Development Workshop: Become A Person Of Influence With Jo Miller

Today I attended Jo Miller‘s Professional Development workshop: Become a Person of Influence. Not going to lie, when I first heard the workshop title, it sounded a little too market-y, but I had heard great things about Jo and have repeatedly gotten feedback that I need more visibility for career advancement. So I figured, eh, maybe it’s for me. In the end, I did take away a good deal of insights. Here’s my honest and in-depth recount of my experience. You can also get a copy of this presentation at!

Jo kicked off the session by asking the room how many people think that they’re the org’s best kept secret. To my surprise, about half the room raised their hands. I was not one of them. 🙁 But I look forward to this changing by the end of the workshop.

“In my company, influencing skills are the single most important success factor after knowing your job” – Joanna Sohovich, CEO, The Chamberlain Group

One of Jo’s students once asked if too much influence is a bad thing. Jo compared it to cow manure: hording all the stink to yourself vs spreading it around as fertilizer. Nice imagery. That’ll stick in my mind for sure! Point is: influence is just a tool. It’s how it’s used that matters.

“Most technical work is team work. With influencing skills, a technical woman can be more efficient, get the job done, establish her reputation, and advance her career.” — Wei Lin, Senior Director of Engineering, Symantec.

In effect, it’s more than just making people do stuff for you. It’s making everyone get efficient work done.

Does this situation happen to you? Person A speaks up with an idea and people either ignore it or brush it off. Then a few minutes later, Person B brings up the same idea and suddenly everybody buys in, and Person B gets the credit for the great idea! This has happened to me on at least two occasions. Interesting to note, I’ve never had this happen to me on email threads as far as I’m aware. Jo explains that Person B likely walks into the room with an air of preparedness. They speak up in the first few minutes to establish presence in the room. They don’t wait for permission to speak. They interject. Most importantly, these behaviors get replayed over time. Person B trains people to see them as impactful, confident, and influential.

Now, according to Jo, it actually has less to do with what they say or how they say it in the moment (though these things matter), but far more to do with all the little behaviors leading up to that moment. That’s when Jo got around to the meat of what this workshop’s all about. It’s not just about acting influential, but being influential. Or as I’d like to add, being and being seen as influential.

She gave an example of Cesar Millan’s work with dogs. Training the dogs is less important than training the owners. He trains the owners to be calm and assertive, to act the part of pack leader. The dog then recognizes the owner as pack leader and naturally transform its own behavior. Every interaction is an opportunity to demonstrate leadership.

“Our behavior teaches people how to treat us.”

Okay, we then got down to some exercises. The first one involved listing 3 characteristics of influential leaders weknow. For me personally it was the following:

  • Authenticity – Willingness to be honest about what they really think. I have to trust them.
  • Direction – Once they decide on something, they stick to it.
  • Open-mindedness – This is necessary so the rest of the team feels heard and trusted.

On to the main attraction. Jo showcased her 6 sources of influence, countdown style!


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6. Positional Influence

This is the influence inherent in your job title and role. Jo told the story of a woman in a Senior Manager role on her team. Everything was operating smoothly until the team went through a big reorg. As a result, nobody knew who this “new” team was and their reputation pretty much got reset. She had a very short time to turn her team around. In order to do so, the woman started introducing herself to key players, 30 sec elevator pitch style “Hi I’m _(name)__ and I am ___(job title)___. I’m responsible for ____. Come directly to me whenever you need _____.” The key: tell people specifically what you do and why you matter in a short time.

Template: Name, job title, I am responsible for ___, Come directly to me whenever you need ____.

There were a few uncertainties I had with this exercise. One is that since joining a new team, most of my feature work is shared with others. I guess I could say “Come directly to me or ___” in that case. Or I could identify the subarea of the feature I own, up to a certain granularity of course. It would be a bit ridiculous to list every minute thing I’ve ever done. We practiced saying our pitches to each other, and to be honest, it felt both empowering and awkward at the same time. I guess I’m not used to such absolute language. It will be something interesting to explore going forward for sure.

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5. Expertise Influence
This is the influence that comes from your background, qualifications, experience, and accomplishments. This time, we heard a story of a woman who had expertise in an area, but people kept taking questions to her boss, who would then ask her, then take the answers back to the questioners. So the boss got all the expertise credit. She was not comfortable bragging about her expertise, and so people understandably didn’t know about it. In meetings, she herself would say “let me talk to my boss first,” so she was actually the one training others to go to her boss first. To rectify the situation, the woman regularly practiced in front of the mirror responding with “I don’t have the information yet, but I’ll find out.”

“It’s not what you know and it’s not who you know. It’s who knows what you know.” — Nora Denzel, Board Director, AMD and Ericsson

Jo Miller then gave us some tips for how to make our expertise visible. Surprisingly, for early career folks, she suggested “working less.” Why? Because “work doesn’t speak for itself.” Work just attracts more work, not necessarily more visibility. The better thing to do is to step away from time to time to talk to others. I know I’ve gotten this advice many times. My biggest mental block here is feeling like I’m bothering others when dropping by for unsolicited chitchat, even if it’s completely relevant to the work we’re doing. Another tip she recommended, which also made my comfort zone quiver a bit, was to promote accomplishments. I definitely have problems bragging, but Jo did mention that you can promote without being direct about it, such as writing a blog or wiki for the team. What I took out of it in the end is that the aim is more towards “how can I showcase what I’ve done to help others to better work as well?” rather than just “how can I brag about what I’ve done, period?”

For mid-level folks, she suggested volunteering for high-profile assignments, leading committees and task forces. I can do this, and honestly I would love to have more high-profile responsibilities! This does require a lot of awareness on my part though to even notice when high-profile assignments are being doled out, certainly something I can work on.

For senior-level folks, she suggested building your personal brand as an industry leader. Speak on panels, at conferences, and in the media. I have recently kickstarted my efforts in this area, but my presence is still in the baby phase and I’ve merely collected a handful of rejected talk proposals so far, but I’m working on it. 😉

Interestingly, I feel like I already try to do a lot of the mid-level and senior-level recommendations, but I completely skipped over the early-career ones! For me it’s always harder to do something less than to do something more. I’m sure I’m not alone here … right?

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4. Resources Influence
Negotiating the resources you need to do your job well. Jo’s suggestions for …

Early career: Become a good negotiator and lead without authority. The former has been covered by many business-skills books already, but the latter is something new to me. The idea is that you find a way to lead in an area where you don’t have formal authority. You essentially go beyond your expected responsibilities to take on responsibility for your team. The challenge would be to do it without being overbearing or annoying about it.

Mid-level: Suggest special projects as development opportunities for others. If you have something to delegate, think deeply about who in the team this task would benefit for their career development. Essentially, you’re not trying to get rid of your work but trying to build your team up. Also, understand how finances and budgets work — this one surprised me, but it essentially is a skill that helps with more effective negotiation, which makes perfect sense.

Senior-level: Be a mentor, sponsor, and talent scout. The idea is that you champion for others so that when the time comes for you to need help, they are there to support you. Personally I think this helps at any stage in your career, but I suppose the payoff really comes when you’ve been building these relationship over the long term.

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3. Informational Influence
Having a finger on the pulse of what is going on in your organization, industry, and profession.

Have some go-to sources of information, pay attention to new projects, opportunities, changes, market intelligence, trends, etc. Finally, network with other informational powerhouses. I actually think I can do well here because I’m naturally nosy and absolutely despise feeling out of the loop. The major roadblock here will be finding enough time to do extracurricular information seeking, and time management is a skill journey all of its own! Challenge accepted.

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2. Direct Influence
Being firm, professional and direct when someone’s behavior is detrimental to the team or organization. Be careful. It’s easy to take this too far in one direction and end up demoralizing your team.

  • Be firm, fair and professional.
  • Be direct and concise while delivering tough news.
  • Explain what was unacceptable and why.
  • Share your vision of the future potential.

The ones that most resonated with me were #3 and #4, because they were forward-looking and productivity-focused. Explaining what didn’t go according to plan specifically isolates an action item to take for similar situations in the future, and focusing on future goals strengthens motivation and morale.

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1. Relationships
People who know me well know that I am actually terrified of talking to strangers and pretty much just terrified of the word “networking.” So when I saw this I internally screamed “noooooooooo!” Yet I wasn’t that surprised either. I’ve binge-read enough psychology and behavioral economics material to know how important the role relationships play in just about every stage of the decision making process. Jo also calls your network your “sphere of influence.”

She left us with the following questions:

  • Who are you going to build a relationship with?
  • How are you going to do it?

To be answered strategically based on your career goal, with at least one stretch goal (like a VP of a company).

For me personally, I prefer to connect organically rather than in a formulaic way. My challenge then would be to find mutual interest, common goals, and shared work as a way to approach and connect with persons of interest.

One more tip from Jo: Compliment someone on something specific, then ask. I would also add: Ask, but don’t expect! You know you’ve become an influencer when the people and job you want start looking for YOU.

We wrapped up the session with Jo’s 5 key people to have in your network:

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1. Connector: The “people person” who knows everyone, loves opening doors and making introductions, and connects others to networks. This is who I aspire to be in the far, far future. It’s kind of a pipe dream right now with my social anxiety, but I haven’t woken up yet! Connectors can help you find resources and excel in your work.

2. Informational powerhouses. Mentioned above, they pay attention and are in-the-know. They can be excellent go-to resources and can help unblock yourself from tough, ambiguous problems. I also aspire to be this. If I can master time management, this role should come naturally.

3. Influencers: they make things happen! They get people on board with ideas and initiatives. They can help champion for your pitch. I’m not good at this whole influencing thing, which I guess is why I went here. 🙂

4. The Mentor! The mentor is definitely both someone I want to be and someone I want to befriend! There’s enough evidence for teaching as an effective way of learning that I believe both sides (mentor and mentee) are valuable roles to play. By the way, people debate what a mentor is, but I think it’s simply just someone you can go to for advice who has had the same experiences you’re going through. I also believe your mentors can be your mentees too depending on what needs advising.

Jo’s five S’s of mentoring success:

  • Stories. Ask them to share their stories on how they experienced or overcame something.
  • Situations – Share with them situations and ask for advice. Be specific.
  • Self-awareness – Ask for honest perceptions on you, things that you would otherwise miss on your own.
  • Skill building – Pick a skill that you’re working on and dive deeper into that. I personally would also recommend that you find a way to track success and revisit your progress regularly.

5. The Sponsor – This one’s new to me. So, mentors give you perspective and sponsors give you opportunities. Mentors help you scale out and sponsors help you move up.

Jo asked if we’ve had a sponsor in the past and how have they helped? I could think of a few people in the past who had put in good words for me after I stepped up to help on something urgent. It definitely helped in my career development. One of the attendees mentioned that her manager was her biggest sponsor, and I personally feel everybody’s manager should be their sponsor. Jo also stated that it’s helpful to have a few sponsors outside of your direct org, which will really be a challenge for me.

Here’s the catch, you don’t choose sponsors. They choose you. Remember, when someone advocates for you, they’re putting their own reputation on the line!

Tips for attracting sponsors include outperforming, communicating value, looking for leaders with track records of developing talent, networking across your org and beyond your direct management chain, looking for exposure opportunities, having clarity about your career goals, and sharing those goals with your leaders. My biggest takeaway here was that attracting the attention of sponsors has a lot to do with simply paying attention and grabbing opportunities when you see them.

Now rock it.

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