Prerequisite for Persuasion: What’s Your Leadership Work Reputation (Among Other Engineers)?

You Can’t Influence (Especially Without Authority) Until You Know How You’re Perceived

How do I come across at work?

Secretly, don’t we all want to know?

How do your engineering colleagues see you? (Not as a person but as a leader. Let’s hope they like you just fine as a person.) How they perceive your leadership style has ramifications for how best—or even if—you collaborate well. And in today’s organization, collaboration is a stepping stone to influence and persuasion.

Especially if you have to influence others in your organization without having the “right” title or an official position of authority (yet), you’d better be clear about how your team-mates—and other teams, managers, and your bosses—perceive you. Understanding how you come across—that is, their take on how you lead—is the first step toward being able to collaborate successfully across hierarchies, functions, and departments. And, given that so much of work these days is forging relationships “across the aisle” as historical enemies (Engineering and Marketing, say) have to collaborate, this first step is pretty much a prerequisite for building your powers of persuasion.

Why Would I Want to Influence People, Anyway?  

Selling snakeoil or "influence"?

Selling snakeoil or "influence"?

Though one of the bestselling self-help books of all time is titled How to Win Friends and Influence People, the idea of influence seems to have gotten a bad rap, especially with engineers who may value “facts” over skills they perceive as “soft.” Let’s be clear: we’re not talking about getting people to buy bridges (or snake oil), or Manchurian Candidate-like mind control, just the simple ability to get your job done. Which invariably entails co-workers ... who may not automatically want to do things your way, on your schedule.

Need convincing about how valuable the ability to influence is? Listen to the authors of Influence Without Authority:

Anyone who has ever been charged with coordinating the efforts of many others, knows the importance of influence, and just how maddening it can be to need others to get work done but not be able to move them.   ...

Here are some of the examples authors Allan Cohen and David Bradford supply about how the ability to influence can smooth your way throughout the full 360 degrees of your organizational life:

  • You have been asked to a cross-functional task force and have to get people outside your area committed to the project, but they are not cooperating.

  • You are in product development and need the cooperation of a key person or department in marketing to test out a new product you are developing.

  • You could be far more effective if you could figure out how to get your controlling boss of your back.

  • You have a talented person reporting to you who won’t listen to your advice about difficult colleagues; as a result, he is far less effective than he could be.

Clearly, influence is vital for your relationships and interactions across your organization, whether you’re trying to accomplish a basic task, innovate, or groom talent.

How Do I KNOW How I Come Across?

Here’s where a tool by Hogan comes in. (No, I’m not affiliated with them, but I choose their assessments for my coaching practice because of their huge database. Ping me if you want to hear more about why I like their methodology, which includes having professionals in myriad industries answer such seemingly odd questions as “Would you rather be an opera singer or a rock star?”)

These assessments enable my engineering clients to start becoming more self-aware so they can learn more about their own reputations. I’ve written elsewhere about personality assessments , but this tool offers three modules to provide insight into your potential for leadership, your values, and your challenges. (The latter are defined as triggers that may undermine you if you remain unaware of them). These modules are constructed to get at how you’re seen within your organization across several scales.


Are your values consistent with your role in your current organization? After you’ve completed this assessment you’ll have a snapshot of what motivates you, how well you fit within your organizational culture, what behavior you appreciate and what you dislike, and your unconscious biases—all growing out of questions within these 10 categories:

  1. Recognition
  2. Power
  3. Hedonism
  4. Altruism
  5. Affiliation
  6. Tradition
  7. Security
  8. Commerce
  9. Aesthetics
  10. Science

Better understanding your values can help you determine if you’re in the right role within your organization. Sometimes, the results can even help you figure out if you’re in the right organization; maybe a similar role at a completely different company would be a better fit.

Your Leadership Potential

Hogan names the seven scales of your leadership potential like this:

  1. Adjustment
  2. Ambition
  3. Sociability
  4. Interpersonal Sensitivity
  5. Prudence
  6. Inquisitiveness
  7. Learning Approach

Even if you believe you’re already completely clear about your own preferences, are you sure you know how you come across? That is, do you know what your preferences actually convey to your colleagues?

Take Sociability. Do you love being talkative, the center of attention? Or are you someone who prefers to solve problems on your own, without distractions from colleagues. (Yes, we tech types can skew toward “lone wolf” tendencies, but lots of us are more social than the “engineering stereotype” predicts.)  Either is valid, but knowing your score’s implications for your leadership behavior lets you decide how best to translate your proclivities into action.  

For example, I was surprised to find I had a low reputation for Prudence; in fact, it It was the largest disparity between my self-identity and my reputation. I won’t detail the extensive feedback the Hogan tools provided, but one statement about my score was: “As a leader you prefer to think about outcomes rather than details. However, you should try to understand the details of the work in your area. Doing so will enhance your ability to represent your team to others.”

Spot on, given that my boss had commented, “keep an eye on the technical details. A quick way to lose credibility with engineers is to be too detached from the technical bits,” and a peer had said: “good high-level perspective but sometimes seems out of her depth on the lower-level technical details.”

I admit I tend to “get bored with details,” but Google values technical details deeply. In conjunction with what I gleaned from the Values model about “figuring out fit,” I have a choice: Assuming I’m working in the right organization, am I in the right role? If I am in the right role, then I’d better get comfy hunkering down with the details—enough to show colleagues I understand and appreciate their concerns.

Your Challenges (Triggers)

What challenges are in your shadow?

What challenges are in your shadow?

  1. Excitable
  2. Skeptical
  3. Cautious
  4. Reserved
  5. Leisurely
  6. Bold
  7. Mischievous
  8. Colorful
  9. Imaginative
  10. Diligent
  11. Dutiful

How you should score might seem obvious. Wouldn’t most U.S. managers want to score very high on, say, being Bold?

Well, not necessarily. There’s a difference between being an appropriately confident person and having an inflated view of your own competency. Scoring very high on the Bold scale, for instance, might mean you’re perceived as less collaborative and hence unwilling to entertain feedback on a project strategy. On the other end of the spectrum, could your natural modesty cause you to under-estimate your capacities, and thus set goals that don’t stretch you enough? Or do you doubt yourself and seek buy-in from others just a bit more than you should before you tackle a task?

If we posit cooperation as a building block for true collaboration, knowing how you come across—the ways you may trigger your colleagues, but, more important, the ways in which you earn their credibility and trust—is a prerequisite to any authentic exercise of leadership. You can’t start effecting change in your group’s priorities, beliefs, habits, and loyalties, without it. And self-knowledge is the fastest pathway.

Tips for Collaborative Leadership

We’ve covered a lot, so I’ll wrap it up with a few tips from coach Carol Kinsey Goman. She listed 8 tips in a recent Forbes feature , but two in particular deserve your attention.

  1. Realize that silos can kill your business.
  2. Build your collaboration strategies around the “human element.”
  3. Use collaboration as an organizational change strategy.
  4. Make visioning a team sport.
  5. Utilize diversity in problem solving.
  6. Help people develop relationships.
  7. Focus on building trust.
  8. Watch your body language.

Tips #1 and #5 tie most strongly to becoming aware of your leadership reputation (to then enable persuasion and smooth collaboration). As Kinsey Goman says, “Collaboration is not a ‘nice to have’ organizational philosophy. It is an essential ingredient for organizational survival and success.”

The silo mindset comprises an unwillingness to share information freely with other groups within the organization. “Silo is a business term that has been passed around and discussed in many boardrooms over the last 30 years. Unlike other trendy management terms this is one issue that has not disappeared. ... Wherever it’s found, a silo mentality becomes synonymous with power struggles, lack of cooperation, and loss of productivity.”

Why is the silo mentality so destructive? “Knowledge hoarding behaviors are wasting the kind of collective brainpower that could save ... organization(s) billions. Or lead to the discovery of a revolutionary new process or product. Or, in the current economic climate, help keep their company afloat when others are sinking!”

Tip #5, utilize diversity in problem solving, is especially important for engineering managers in tech. Numerous studies show that diverse teams out-perform homogenous ones. “Group members who think alike or are trained in similar disciplines with similar bases of knowledge run the risk of becoming insular in their ideas. Diversity causes people to consider perspectives and possibilities that would otherwise be ignored.”

This means risking collaborating with teams dissimilar to yours. It also means being able to influence their priorities because you’re persuasive enough—that is, enough of a leader (no matter what your title)—to lead them through the iterations needed for shared efforts to succeed.