By: Lynn Wilson

After more than 30 years in the forest sector and having worked in a variety of settings, there are learned insights and personal experiences I would like to share with other women about the importance of building relationships, influencing the outcomes you experience, and networking effectively. These strategies have helped me develop leadership skills over the years, and I hope they can help others. In this sharing, my focus is on actionable recommendations.

One critical skill a leader requires is influencing others to approve or support new proposals, ideas, change, and initiatives. It is critical to recognize the difference between cultivating influence as a leader vs. authority based upon position. This takes skill, patience, and commitment to understanding what motivates people and what they value. To successfully influence people, leaders take time to build support. You can do this by creating and maintaining relationships. By building trust, leaders make others feel appreciated and heard, and they come to believe that their interests also matter to you.

Building on this discussion, how do we/I create change, influence outcomes, and move decision-makers forward in any number of areas without being in positions of authority? To accomplish this, one must command attention and respect. We also need to know which battles are worth fighting by being able to identify agendas, concerns, and motivations of others – and anticipate their reactions.

Leaders generate enthusiasm for ideas by identifying shared values and offering message points that are clear and compelling. Leaders know whom to involve and when in order to build coalitions and alliances, and they promote ideas and positions with confidence and enthusiasm. To build your influence, be clear about how what you are promoting benefits the organization – does it solve a problem, cut costs, increase ROI, decrease turnover, elevate your brand, etc.? It is important to win support from others and get them to take action, but leaders must also be willing to make appropriate concessions. In my personal experience, I was challenged with getting a big project approved that met significant resistance. I had to rely on my persistence and investigate why there was resistance and garner support. I learned to “play chess, not checkers,” and to look a few moves ahead to create the longer-term strategies that are essential to success. People’s trust in you will grow when your initiatives benefit the broader organization, not just your own project or department.

An important way to develop your skills and opportunities is through the benefits of mentorship. Where/how do I/you network and identify mentors? Many organizations and companies currently do not have women in leadership positions, and mentors may be outside your own organization as well. To identify potential mentors, it is important to be observant and look for role model leaders you respect and admire for specific skills and attributes. For example, you can observe and seek mentors for their executive presence, influence, models of leading courageously, and people who communicate for impact. In my own career, I asked someone to be my mentor after observing their behavior and recognize the ways I felt a relationship with them would benefit my own development.

To further build and leverage your network, I have a few final actionable recommendations:
● Make an ongoing list of your network and nurture your network. The list should include internal and external network members, and it is important to put outreach to them on your calendar weekly/monthly/ quarterly/at least 1X per year to nurture those relationships.
● Assess your network to identify gaps and needs. Where do you lack connections? Peers, Former colleagues, Executives, Allied Organizations?
● Self-assess your challenges and opportunities. Are you isolated due to geographic location, working from home, current career situation? Look for ways to network within your current situation and be honest about challenges you face (chess, not checkers!).
● Identify a mentor or re-engage with an existing mentor. Ask for help from others if you are finding it challenging to identify or engage with a mentor.
● Meet regularly with your manager or direct supervisor to let them know what you are working on. Mentors may be outside your organization, but a champion and supporter within your own organization is also an important part of your network to invest time in cultivating.
● Make it a two-way street. Make sure you are offering assistance and support to others and giving back. Avoid defining networking and mentoring as something others do for you. When you meet with your mentors and network, come well prepared with an agenda, questions, updates on current projects and items you wish to discuss.

Bottom line, if you wish to more effectively influence others, promote leading examples and successful projects, and shape meaningful change in your organization, these outcomes are heavily reliant on building relationships and leveraging your network.

Resources and References:
* The Power of Talk: Who Gets Heard and Why by Deborah Tannen hbr 2002
** Successful Managers Handbook: Develop Yourself. Coach Others. PDI Ninth House, 2010