Influential Leadership: Leading up, leading down and leading sideways – part 2 by guest blogger Donna Rossi Smith

Cohen and Bradford say that doing quality work is a way of gaining credibility and a positive reputation.  They believe this is the entry point for influence and “…influence requires much more than a simple technique” (2007, p. 292).  Coaching, as one will read, is not a simple technique.  Coaching can help people develop the skills they need to drive change, influence people, and meet and exceed goals by uncovering hidden talents.  Coaching uses frameworks, coupled with a core set of competencies, to drive a successful coaching engagement.  Coaching someone toward influential leadership will work to bring out the leader within the person, not have the individual work to become a leader.

The 3 key core coaching competencies, as outlined in Columbia’s Coaching Certification Program, include co-creating the relationship, meaning making with others, and helping others succeed. These competencies have a direct correlation to the skills or competencies that influential leaders embrace. In Mirsalimi and Hunter’s research, they shared what they consider “deceptively simple leadership skills—listening, reflecting, dialoguing, modeling, and use of self” (2006, p. 77). When one applies the coaching competencies to the key leadership skills from Mirsalimi and Hunter, you uncover similarities in both the practice of coaching and the practice of influential leadership.

According to Rost, leadership is not just the influence that one person or a group of people has on the rest of us.  “Leadership is much more adequately seen as a process of interaction.”  He continues to explain that leadership exists when group members deal with one another in ways that meet their needs and contribute to their goals (1993, p. 86).  The coaching competency of helping others succeed is applied here in the sense that a true leader, will aim to help the collective group reach their goals, not just themselves.   Coaches and influential leaders share this in common by using “self as an instrument” to help others succeed, and for a coach to recommend the client to participate in 360-degree review for further insights in their interactions. 

Influential leadership is heavily connected to the power of building strong relationships. Rosanne Badowski, former Executive Assistant to the famous Jack Welch, is a solid example of an influential leader who built a strong relationship with her boss, among others.  In Badowski’s book, Mr. Welch notes that perhaps it seems he was managing down at times and she was managing up at other times, but in the end he believes “…they were both managing sideways” (2003, p. 3).  The strong relationship that Ms. Badowski formed with Mr. Welch created a dynamic that was a winning, successful team.  There is no doubt Ms. Badowski influenced Mr. Welch.  Mr. Welch described her talents of influence with a few key words in the foreword of Ms. Badowski’s book. These words included, but were not limited to—loyal, discreet, forgiving, and committed (2003).   Coaching others toward success of this kind requires coaches to question, listen, and test the assumptions of their clients’ so that they, too, can be successful influencers through the creation of strong relationships.

David Williams, a contributor with Forbes’ magazine, deems influential people are “innovative thinkers who focus on the customers and help the less fortunate” (2012, para. 2).  In his article, “Top Ten List: Greatest Living Business Leaders Today”, Williams identifies the top two people to be Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Anne Mulcahy of Xerox.  While they both hold CEO level positions now, this wasn’t always the case.  These individuals are said to have had “courageous execution in the face of adversity”, as described in their unique stories and their rise to success (2012, para. 5). 

Being courageous requires people to take risks and explore new ideas, options, and strategies.  Influential leaders do this well.  The practice of coaching can create a safe place for people to explore and grow.  In Columbia’s Coaching Certification Program, there are three phases to the coaching process—context, content, and conduct.  With a successful execution of the coaching process, a coach will be able to ask innovative, thought-provoking questions that will feed the conversation forward.  In the context phase, the client will be able to have clarity around the situation, trigger, or challenge that brought them to coaching in the first place. After the coach earns the right to advance, the relationship will move to the content phase (second phase).  There, the client will be able to explore options, preferably in a way that stays focused on the client’s agenda and is useful to the client to generate innovative ideas.  A plan will later surface and an action strategy to execute the plan will bring the client to a place he or she may never thought was possible.  This is where the growth and renewal can be seen, especially with the support and acknowledgement from the coach.  In other words, coaching and the phases of the coaching process, as a tool, can help individuals get to the place of courageous, bold moves—the essence of innovation, a word used to describe some of today’s top influential leaders.

Anyone who has been in the presence of an influential leader knows that they have an element of humility about them.  Typically, someone desiring coaching will have this level of humility about them as well—it will depend, however, if the client is conscious of this or not.  Regardless, both influential leaders and clients who are seeking leadership coaching are willing to grow and develop, in most cases.  As noted, influential leaders are willing to acknowledge that they don’t know everything; they are open to learning from others (Mirsalimi & Hunter, 2006). 

The use of coaching, as a tool, can drive performance of all talent, which can result in innovation, growth, and prosperity of an organization. Influential leadership, at its’ core, is the power to influence others above, below and sideways within an organization.  The practice of coaching others to become influential leaders has the power to breed the next wave of today’s most influential leaders. How motivating—this is why I love coaching!


Donna Rossi Smith: Executive Excellence