Question: My biggest question about being a better leader has to do with building greater credibility and influence. I am about to start a new position and would like to begin on the right foot.
Answer: When it comes to building credibility and influence, Nina Bhatti is an inspiring role model. As Principle Scientist with HP Labs, Bhatti is among HP’s highest-ranked technical women; her research has resulted in commercially successful products for some of HP’s largest customers.
In a recent conversation, I asked what advice she could offer to someone who wanted to build credibility and the positive influence to make a difference in their organization; how should they go about influencing and gaining support for an idea or project that they are passionate about.
1) Build credibility
While acknowledging that this is never easy, Bhatti advised “When you enter an organization, your first job is to build credibility. I don’t think there is anything more important than that. You say what you are going to do and you do what you say.”
Be aware that you are being observed and people are watching to see if you can be relied upon to deliver what you say you will deliver.
If given an assignment, you must confidently execute well. “You need to show enthusiasm”, Bhatti explained. “You need to show engagement with the mission of the organization. You need to take on assignments and do them confidently and enthusiastically.”
People will learn to trust you and know that you are going to achieve what you say you will do. “Train people that you are good for it”, Bhatti emphasized.
2) Contribute to the goals of the organization
Bhatti’s next step to building credibility requires finding valuable ways to contribute to your organization and making those your priority. “When there is an opportunity, show professionalism. Help other people, but never forget what your main goal is.”
If you are not clear on the objectives of your role, Bhatti would encourage you to clarify those goals with your manager.
She cautioned against taking on volunteer assignments that do not directly contribute to the organization’s business goals. “As a junior person, I volunteered not to be on the Site Beautification Committee but for things like recruiting new interns. I knew a lot about colleges and universities and what to look for in a summer student. I worked on committees with the head of the world-wide organization. I got opportunities to work with people I would never have the opportunity to work with as the bottom rank player.”
3) Seek out influential sponsors
To make your mark on the business, find an initiative that you want to do, that is also a leader’s goal.
“Find somebody in a position of power and authority who has something to gain from your doing this”, Bhatti suggests. “They need to have something to gain from you succeeding. You need someone who is in alignment with what you want to do.”
Early in her career, Bhatti approached a Senior Vice-President who needed to accomplish something for a large customer. “I gave him something that I could do that he really needed to deliver.” As a result, the Senior Vice President was intrinsically motivated to become her sponsor.
4)How will you know when you have gained credibility?
Bhatti’s observation is that “credibility is built along a sliding scale. If you have a small project and you executed well within that little envelope, that’s how credibility is built. You are given as much credibility as the last freedom you were given.”
For Bhatti, the realization of her growing credibility came the day a manager threw her a large and intimidating assignment.
“When the manager threw the monster task at me, I was very overwhelmed. How would he measure my success in an area with subjective goals and measures? It was truly scary.”
In the midst of that overwhelm, she asked “What do you want me to do?”
Her manager replied “I don’t know. I am not going to tell you how to do your job. Something good will happen that wasn’t going to happen without you”.
“See how much credibility I built with him?” Bhatti said, with a chuckle.
Bhatti had to figure out what the real assignment was and what the successful completion might look like. Over coming weeks she managed to validate the measures of success and then execute.
In concluding, Bhatti said, “At some point your manager won’t know this better than you do. So you end up having to learn to manage yourself and provide direction when there isn’t any.”
Jo Miller is CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, Inc. which offers women’s leadership seminars and coaching programs.