What Every Security Executive Should Know about Power and Influence

Imagine that a security executive with a military background joins a manufacturing company. He develops a plan to invest in a new technology that will transform the company's approach to security. This initiative will strengthen security and, within a few years the cost savings from the technology will pay for the investment. During his meeting with the CEO, he lays out the numbers and makes what he believes is an airtight case.

The project should have received immediate approval, but the executive is told the next week that the request was turned down. There were competing priorities. He discovers later that the funds went instead to the operations group. The operations case may not have been any better than the case for the security investment, but the operations manager had a much better understanding of how to exercise influence in the organization. She was a long-time veteran of the company. She was astute at understanding the campaign needed to build broad support for the project. Only after she had this support did she take the idea to the CEO.

What went wrong? This security executive failed to recognize that he was no longer in a military organization where a strong appeal to a general could lead to immediate results. The organization required coalition building. It had a different style. While security executives may come from a military or law enforcement background, they usually need to make their case to the CEO, COO, or other executives who come from very different backgrounds. Security executives need to understand their approach to influence and how it might be received in the organization.

Influence is more important than ever for security executives. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the work of security executives is much more important-and more visible. They have moved into a new role, but they do not always have formal authority that other key decision makers often have. Caught between new demands and a lack of formal power, skill in influence has become essential.

Increasing Your Influence

How can you make your case in a more persuasive manner? There are particular influence skills that can help, which we teach in the Wharton/ASIS Security Executive Program. Among the ways to increase your influence in your organization are:

Speaking the language of business: One of the first steps to being influential is to learn the language of the person you are trying to influence. At the C-level, that language is finance and strategy. If a security executive is speaking from a strictly functional focus on the pure security aspects of an initiative-protecting information, people, corporate secrets, etc.-other managers may not respond. If people are going to pay attention to you outside of the security silo, you must put the message into terms they understand. You need to translate it into bottom-line terms or strategy terms. Then other managers will listen. You cannot influence them unless you speak the language of business.

Understanding your influence style and the style of the organization: In my work with Professor Richard Shell, which is the subject of a forthcoming book, we identified six primary influence styles that managers tend to use. These are the Commander, Scientist, Visionary, Harmonizer, Dealmaker and Powerbroker. Effective Commanders are masters at using the power of position as well as authoritative rules; the Scientist appeals to logic and reason; the Visionary relies on inspiration and purpose; the Harmonizer emphasizes personal relationships; the Dealmaker crafts win-win trades based on needs and interests; and the Powerbroker formulates strategy by assessing politics, egos, winners, and losers.

One thing that is very important is to know what one or two styles you tend to favor. If you come out of a traditional hierarchical organization, as many security people do, you might gravitate toward a Commander style. But you might find yourself in an organization that has more of a Powerbroker style. This was the problem faced by the executive in the case presented above. In this environment, it is important to work behind the scenes to get things done rather than mount a frontal assault. You have to think politically.

You have to know your style and then ask yourself, given the situation, what would be the most effective style to use? Sometimes you cannot change styles. If you are unable to adapt your style because it is too hard-wired, perhaps you can partner with another person in the organization who has similar goals but also has an influence style that is more closely aligned with the style of the organization. You may find yourself in a situation where emotions are running so high that you might not be the best person to make the case. If you do not understand your style and the style of the organization or the group you are trying to influence, you may be setting yourself up for failure. They simply will not be able to hear what you are saying because of the approach you are taking. You need to frame your message so it is aligned with the culture of the organization.

Knowing your blindspots: Once you understand your style and the style of the organization, you can recognize your blindspots. We all have blindspots, even very successful people. Even a very successful leader like Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli, who takes a very autocratic or Commander approach to influence, got into trouble because he failed to see how this would be received by shareholders. He held a shareholder meeting that was a tightly scripted affair. A number of shareholder activists wanted to have a discussion of some of their concerns. He gave everyone just a short time to make a point and then he turned off their microphone. They saw him as controlling and dismissive. He has been apologizing for it for months. Here was an extremely successful leader at both General Electric and Home Depot, yet this blind spot seriously damaged his reputation. He took a Command approach while the shareholders wanted a Harmonizer who could focus on relationships. There was a mismatch.

Understanding who will win and lose: In the Wharton program, we use a strategic persuasion framework to analyze the political situation and understand who wins and who loses. In any situation, there are winners and losers. This is the reality of corporate life. A particular set of people benefit and others lose. They get fewer resources, make less money, are restructured into a new job or move to a lower level of the organization. It is important to understand who will win and who will lose if a certain idea goes forward. Then you can build alliances with the right people-others who also will win-and address the concerns of the people who will lose.

Using the best channel: Finally, you need to give thought to the best way to deliver your message. Should it be through a personal meeting, a group meeting or by e-mail? Each channel will have a very different impact on the outcome. Each has strengths and weaknesses in exercising your influence. For example, an e-mail may allow you to quickly reach many people in the organization, but you lose control of where your message goes. If the e-mail is forwarded to people who might lose out as a result of the initiative, you may help to mobilize the opposition to your idea.

Planning your campaign: While you might think that if you develop a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door, this is generally not the case. You need to think about how to organize your campaign. How do you systematically mount an effort to make the case for a security initiative? You may need to work behind the scenes or make the case in public forums. You need to develop a coherent plan, follow up and keep after it.

Many managers may shy away from discussing power and influence because they see it as manipulation. It is not manipulation. Even in a small organization, no one has a complete, 360-degree view of the organization or the environment. You have a responsibility to help others understand your point of view. It is not about manipulation but carefully planning your way to a community.

In fact, the foundation for all influence is credibility. If you do not really stand for something and your heart is not in the right place, people will see that. Credibility is key. You first need to have a good idea. There is a Russian proverb that says "If you have an ugly face, don't blame the mirror." But assuming you have a good proposal and you believe in it, your skill in influence can be crucial in getting others to get behind it.

Learn more: Business Management Skills for Security Executives

The Wharton/ASIS program superbly stimulates security improvement through educational reform by promoting better business comprehension and decision making by security executives. If you are interested in this program, please call 800-255-3932, ext. 4401, or send an email to execed@wharton.upenn.edu. Interviews with professors from the Wharton/ASIS security executive managment training program will be featured regularly on SecurityInfoWatch.com.

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