The Influence Effect

A New Path to Power for Women Leaders

Kathryn Heath (Editor) | Jill Flynn (Author) | Mary Davis Holt (Author) | Diana Faison (Author)

Publication date: 11/06/2017

The Influence Effect
Women hold over half of all professional jobs today, yet they represent just four percent of CEOs in the S&P 500. Even worse, that percentage has barely budged in a decade.
That's where
The Influence Effect comes in. Based on recent research by the authors of the New York Times bestseller Break Your Own Rules, this book begins with the premise that when it comes to political savvy, what works for men at work won't work for women. Packed with the authors' coaching insights and their “Big Five” strategies designed specifically for female executives, this book guides women to break past political barriers and get right to what they really want—influence.

Authors Kathryn Heath, Jill Flynn, Mary Davis Holt, and Diana Faison make success far less complex, helping women overcome entrenched resistance to their ideas, create their own access points to power, and attract followers in a way that works for them. They present tools such as Influence Loops (to organically increase influence), Personal Scaffolding (to grow a groundswell of support), and Scenario Thinking (a savvy twist on strategic planning). These and other smart strategies finally allow women to succeed on their own terms.

Illustrated with dozens of engaging, real stories culled from the authors' many years of coaching experience,
The Influence Effect moves women past the politics problem and offers a new path to power. Actually, it's more than a path—it's a runway—it frees women to take off in their careers on their own terms. The Influence Effect will work for women, not because gender barriers will no longer exist, but because they will no longer hold women back.

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Women hold over half of all professional jobs today, yet they represent just four percent of CEOs in the S&P 500. Even worse, that percentage has barely budged in a decade.
That's where
The Influence Effect comes in. Based on recent research by the authors of the New York Times bestseller Break Your Own Rules, this book begins with the premise that when it comes to political savvy, what works for men at work won't work for women. Packed with the authors' coaching insights and their “Big Five” strategies designed specifically for female executives, this book guides women to break past political barriers and get right to what they really want—influence.

Authors Kathryn Heath, Jill Flynn, Mary Davis Holt, and Diana Faison make success far less complex, helping women overcome entrenched resistance to their ideas, create their own access points to power, and attract followers in a way that works for them. They present tools such as Influence Loops (to organically increase influence), Personal Scaffolding (to grow a groundswell of support), and Scenario Thinking (a savvy twist on strategic planning). These and other smart strategies finally allow women to succeed on their own terms.

Illustrated with dozens of engaging, real stories culled from the authors' many years of coaching experience,
The Influence Effect moves women past the politics problem and offers a new path to power. Actually, it's more than a path—it's a runway—it frees women to take off in their careers on their own terms. The Influence Effect will work for women, not because gender barriers will no longer exist, but because they will no longer hold women back.

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Meet the Authors & Other Product Contributors

Visit Editor Page - Kathryn Heath
Kathryn Heath, Ph. D., is a founding partner at Flynn Heath Holt Leadership. She serves as a coach, developer of women’s leadership programs, and training designer.

Visit Author Page - Jill Flynn
Jill Flynn, M. Ed., is a founding partner at Flynn Heath Holt Leadership. She specializes in creating and implementing company-specific pipelines for high-potential women.

Visit Author Page - Mary Davis Holt
Mary Davis Holt, MBA, is a partner at Flynn Heath Holt Leadership. She is an executive coach and keynote speaker on business, women, and leadership.

Visit Author Page - Diana Faison
Diana Faison, M. Ed., is a partner at Flynn Heath Holt Leadership, with expertise in leadership training, executive coaching, and performance consulting.

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The Influence Effect

About the Authors

All four authors of The Influence Effect: A New Path to Power for Women Leaders are partners at Flynn Heath Holt Leadership (FHHL), a firm dedicated to moving women leaders forward faster. They are inspired by their Red Suit Vision, which calls for women to make up a minimum of 30 percent of all top leadership positions in corporate America by the year 2025.

Kathryn Heath is a founding partner at FHHL who develops leadership programs, coaches executives, and designs training. She specializes in identifying organizations’ specific business targets through customized programs and working with executives and high-potential leaders at Fortune 500 companies. She coauthored Break Your Own Rules: How to Change the Patterns of Thinking That Block Women’s Paths to Power, which landed on the best-seller lists of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Washington Post. Before she cofounded FHHL, Kathryn was senior vice president and director of First University at the nation’s fourth-largest bank, First Union (now Wells Fargo), where her inventive and results-focused approach won her numerous awards in the field of learning and development.

Jill Flynn is a founding partner at FHHL and a coauthor of Break Your Own Rules . Her work with corporate clients results in higher retention and promotion rates of their women leaders. Jill is widely recognized for her coaching, training, speaking, and consulting expertise and has a roster of happy clients. She previously served as senior vice president at the nation’s fourth-largest bank, First Union (now Wells Fargo), where she established their leadership development, diversity, organizational consulting, and employee satisfaction initiatives. As the corporation grew exponentially during her tenure, Jill and her team prepared a cadre of high-potential leaders to assume senior positions. Within a three-year timeframe, the number of women in these roles increased from 9 percent to 26 percent.

Mary Davis Holt , also a partner at FHHL and coauthor of Break Your Own Rules , is an in-demand speaker who shares her hard-won insights and promotes the firm’s new rules for success to a wide range of audiences. Mary is also a sought-after facilitator and executive coach, and she works with companies to plan strategies that change the culture to support women leaders. Prior to joining FHHL, Mary held executive positions at Time Warner with oversight that ranged from finance to information technology, marketing, human resources, manufacturing, and distribution. She held a number of leadership roles in the publishing group, including senior executive vice president and chief operating officer of Time Life.

Diana Faison is a partner at FHHL, and she worked with the firm as a consultant for over ten years before her partnership. She began her career as a teacher of leadership development studies and a dean in student affairs at Queens University and the University of North Carolina–Charlotte. Over the span of her career, she has coached clients in a wide range of industries, including professional services, global real estate, financial services, software development, and health care. Diana is a sought-after keynote speaker on business leadership topics such as political savvy, brand, personal power, authentic leadership, and well-being.

For more information about the authors and Flynn Heath Holt Leadership, please visit

The Influence Effect


The Influence Effect

Power is a tool, influence is a skill; one is a fist and the other is a fingertip.


IMAGINE YOU’RE ON THE BEACH watching a group of men and women surf. It’s a sunny day and the wind is whipping while the beach warning flags snap in a rhythm. There are rip currents in effect and most people keep close to shore, worried about the dangerous conditions.

You watch the surfers chatting and laughing in the water as they wait for their wave. Two surfers approach a wave and decide it’s not big enough. Another group paddles toward the largest wave in the set; they deftly jump on their boards and grab what looks like the best ride of the day. You marvel from the shore—how do they make it look so easy, graceful, and even fun? Surfers will tell you that it takes practice and a large dose of courage. They understand how to factor in overlapping elements seamlessly to achieve the ride they want. Expert surfers can see a wave approaching and calculate how many seconds they have before it will break. They can spot a wave that will break gradually, so they can ride across the crest as it slowly closes. Experienced surfers look like artists, masters of their craft.

This dynamic is what we want for women. We want you to become masters of influence. Like surfing, or any complex endeavor, achieving influence as a leader is seldom simple. It requires practice to master the skills, and experience to perfect the timing and execution. Also, like surfing, influence requires an awareness of what’s happening below the surface to accurately size up the situation.

Unlike surfing, understanding influence is mandatory for anyone who wants to sell his or her ideas and aspirations to others. Influence—the capacity to impact agendas and outcomes and bring other people on board—is ultimately the tool people use to get things done. All of us know influencers: we see them in action every day and we take note. Some influencers are the change agents and transformational leaders of our organizations; others are the subject matter experts and technical specialists. Still others are the bold problem solvers who cut through complexity and ambiguity. The truly influential individuals among us demonstrate enviable talents that fuel and sustain their success. These are attributes such as executive presence, confidence, determination, passion, empathy, and the ability to build trust. Regardless of what influence looks like or how it is accomplished, it is without a doubt a key component in career success for all of us as individuals and leaders.

Our objective throughout this book is to describe the strategies of influence and tailor them for women. We believe influence is the best tool we can use to break past the gender barriers that many of us experience as female executives.

Our original research, combined with our experience training and coaching over thirteen thousand female leaders over the span of sixteen years, has shown us that greater influence equals greater advancement. We have found that influence, for women, is a proxy for the formal power only a few of us have achieved.

That’s why we’ve written this book—to give women the skills they need to succeed at the highest level. Our research showed very clearly that women believe that influence suits their leadership style. The women we interviewed did not recoil from influence as they did when they talked about office politics.

This draws on a thread that connects all our findings: what works for men at work won’t work for women. When we try to apply advice created by men and for men, it doesn’t feel right to us. In the same way that wearing a business suit designed for a man is uncomfortable for a woman, listening to ill-fitting, poorly tailored advice creates friction and slows us down. This book eliminates the friction by introducing five key strategies that women can use to achieve influence on our own terms and in our own time.

The Influence Effect: Why It Works for Women

Bridget, a regional director at a real estate development firm in Detroit, told us why she works hard to cultivate influence. In her own words, “It keeps me moving ahead in my career and I use it as a lever to drive change.”

A few years ago, Bridget wanted to completely revamp the key processes for how her company interfaced with clients. It was an ambitious undertaking aimed at disrupting, and vastly improving, a sales infrastructure that had been left in place for decades. Part of the plan was to reshape the leadership team to hasten the information flow and streamline decisions so that deals could get done quicker. She spent weeks working the numbers, designing a business case, and practicing her pitch.

“Those initial actions were just the table stakes,” Bridget told us. “The far more difficult and tedious test was clearing the political landmines that were buried across the organization.”

Early on in her effort, Bridget was confronted by two powerful colleagues who had a vested interest in preserving the status quo. There were others, as well, who might choose to align against her to block the path to change, but Bridget acted with determination.

Throughout a two-month period, she met with every decision maker separately. She adapted her plan numerous times. She negotiated with each faction to account for their objections. She courted and eventually won over the skeptics and found the right message to neutralize the two entrenched critics. Ultimately, she made the formal pitch to the board and the idea was implemented. When the new structure was finally rolled out across the business units, it must have looked as though Bridget simply jumped on her surfboard and took off. But that’s not the way it worked.

As she told us, “What most people saw happening was the result of a well-orchestrated influence campaign that occurred below the radar.” In short, influence must be cultivated. It may not be easy at first, but with practice you can become a master.

The Influence Effect is the phrase we use to describe the positive lift that we, as women, experience as we use influence to make our voices heard, create powerful connections, and drive our agendas. The Influence Effect creates a ripple that amplifies our words and actions, attracts followers, and creates a new path to power for us.

A first part of delivering the Influence Effect is reframing the office politics discussion to eliminate the emotional baggage of the phrase “office politics” and put it into a new conceptual frame that suits the style of women.

Many of the women we coach, and those we’ve interviewed, believe that practicing “office politics” may imply that they are being “Machiavellian or inauthentic.” Christi Deakin, a Wells Fargo executive, agreed with the consensus, saying, “The word maneuvering sounds negative or dishonest.” We need to increase our power and be more politically savvy, the women acknowledged, but office politics did not register with them as the right tool.

This reframing is necessary to help us move beyond the negative mind-set and practical limitations that are associated with office politics. As Kathy Ridge, CEO of Levridge Resources, told us, “Influence aims at shared goals that are in the organization’s interest. Whereas, politics often seems to focus purely on individual rewards.” Likewise, another client of ours told us, “I prefer to engage in influencing as opposed to practicing pure politics, because I view influence as positive and transparent.”

This practical reframing helps us break past the politics that our research told us holds women back. This is an important prerequisite that sets us up for success; yet it is only part of understanding why cultivating influence works so well for women. We found that the Influence Effect elevates women for several important reasons.

1. Influence suits our leadership style

Women should never need to act like men in order to succeed as leaders. Cultivating influence allows us to win at work while remaining true to our chosen leadership style and code of conduct. In our research, for instance, we heard that many women want a relationship-based approach to success. We won’t generalize that all women are alike, but many told us they don’t feel the need to chase quick political wins. Instead, they work to achieve success in ways that are subtly different. Their adrenaline is primed by going after bigger-picture, qualitative objectives such as building trust, cultivating strategic relationships, and steering change and reform. In short, influence helps women focus on the following:

  • Collaboration over coercion
  • Cumulative advantage over quick wins
  • Inclusion over zero-sum gains
  • Change over status quo norms

2. Influence can be actively cultivated

Many of us feel sidelined in our careers because we are uncomfortable engaging in political maneuvering and power plays. Another roadblock is the enduring gender stereotypes that hold us back from advancement. Focusing on achieving influence puts the power to act back into our own hands. It keeps us actively engaged and advancing toward our goals. Even better, influence can be learned, practiced, and perfected using the Big Five strategies we present in the following chapters.

3. Influence is a tool for the times

Organizations are flatter, less hierarchical, and more matrixed than ever. In an age in which collaboration trumps individual interest, the use of influence suits our needs far better than political maneuvering and power plays. Influence creates deeper connections and better access points and enables us to advance in our careers in new and better ways. Similarly, influence is all about reaching out to others and cultivating strategic relationships. The women we coach are drawn to using influence because it helps them move ahead with their agenda despite complexity and ambiguity.

4. Influence creates a new way to work

Perhaps the most important reason we are making the case for influence as a tool for women is that it is a path to change and progress. Although women hold 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, American women lag miles behind men when it comes to their representation in leadership. As of 2017, we hold only 5.8 percent of CEO posts in Fortune 500 firms1 and just 19.9 percent of board seats in the Fortune 500.2 In high tech, women represent a mere 30 percent of the workforce,3 and that percentage plunges when you examine the makeup of the management ranks.4 In academia, far fewer women than men are awarded tenured positions each year.5 The list goes on and on. In every industry, from private equity investing to network television, women are underrepresented at the top and we are paid less throughout our careers for the same work. We can cry foul about the data, and yet it is far more difficult to find a solution to this enduring gender divide. That’s why we have written this book.

Now, let’s step into the water and begin riding the waves.

Executive Summary

  • Influence is a key component in career success and advancement for women. It can be a proxy for the formal power we have yet to achieve.
  • Influence helps us focus on cumulative advantage over quick wins, inclusion over zero-sum gains, and change over status quo norms.
  • Influence is a skill that can be learned, practiced, and mastered using the five strategies we will explore in this book.
  • The Influence Effect is the phrase we use to describe the positive lift that we, as women, experience as we use the tools of influence to make our voices heard, create powerful connections, and drive our agendas.
The Influence Effect


Think Bigger, Aim Higher

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?


Anne headed marketing for the education division of an e-learning company. For eleven years, her job was to work with school systems to provide customized interactive materials to improve student performance. Anne had a reputation for being creative and energetic, and she earned the support of several key leaders, including the chief marketing officer (CMO), who hired her and was her direct supervisor.

Over the years, Anne became comfortable in her job; she earned a bit of autonomy for herself and created a lifestyle with predictable hours and the ability to work from home. She liked her job and even recalled a time when she felt poised and ready for bigger and better challenges at the company. But more recently, every time she thought about making a change or sponsoring a new project, she froze. She wanted to dream big and be dynamic, but she wasn’t even sure what that might look like. To make matters worse, the company had become mired by bureaucracy, which led to lackluster results in Anne’s unit.

After two years of sluggish sales, the board demanded action. The CEO fired the CMO, and Anne’s comfortable life was turned upside down. The new CMO reorganized the division and hired three new marketing executives. Anne found herself reporting to a new boss, instead of directly to the CMO. The new boss treated Anne as if she were part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Anne was stunned and felt as if she were being punished.

Anne tried to remain positive, working hard to win over her new boss. She put forward new ideas, but she couldn’t gain any traction. Anne was left wondering, what happened here?

Like many of the women we coach, Anne lost sight of her career goals for a time. She was talented and achieved enviable success, but then she hit a wall and became complacent. Anne did not have the time or the energy to make change happen for herself or for her department.

Anne’s story typifies the challenge many of us face when we first wade into higher levels of leadership: we fail to think big. It is hard work! Anne aimed low and stuck with the status quo instead of creating the change she knew needed to occur. As a result, the change happened to her.

THE UNWRITTEN RULE: Bigger Really Is Better

Let us coach you for a few minutes. Close your eyes and visualize yourself achieving everything you want for yourself professionally. Allow your mind to imagine two or three possible paths for your career. To make this exercise easier for you, we will add two conditions. First, you cannot remain in your current position. You must do something different, bigger, with broader impact. The second condition is this: no matter what you choose to do, you cannot fail. This is good news! Get busy and visualize some options for yourself. What would they look like? What would you be doing? Think bigger. Aim higher. What is the secret career goal you haven’t told anyone? What do you really want for yourself?

Thinking bigger is critical for several reasons.

  1. It delivers big ideas. Big thinking signals change—it generates action. It gets us beyond the here and now and forces us to think about the future. Thinking bigger is associated with solving big problems and achieving big dreams.
  2. It helps us attract followers. Big ideas are engaging and exciting. They inspire others to join our cause and they brand us as visionary leaders. People admire and follow individuals who are brave enough to imagine a bold future instead of thinking small.
  3. It leads to bold decisions. Once we train our brain to think bigger, our lofty vision serves as the filter for future decisions. Thinking bigger helps us proceed courageously and dynamically.

Thinking bigger and aiming higher sets us up to have options and the courage to pursue them. Yet, this is admittedly challenging in a complex world in which we can easily become paralyzed by uncertainty and ambiguity. Like Anne, we need to summon a great deal of courage in order to supersize our thinking.

LIMITING BELIEFS That Lead to Small-Time Thinking

Many of us admire big thinkers, but we seldom see ourselves in that role. Why is that?

Limiting beliefs in women stem from multiple sources. One source is outdated gender stereotypes that box us into traditional gender roles: “Women are not supposed to be ambitious”; “Women should be nurturers, not leaders.” Limiting beliefs also originate in the dark place within ourselves where self-doubt and denial reside. In our work with women leaders, we focus on coaching women to replace the limiting beliefs they harbor about themselves with positive messages. We can learn to funnel our energy in a positive direction. All of us can take steps right now to change our limiting beliefs.

Before moving full steam into the specific tools that women can use to think bigger, let’s look at three common limiting beliefs and start to set them aside.

“I’m not naturally strategic”

A 2009 study by INSEAD professor Hermina Ibarra revealed that female leaders were superior to their male counterparts on many leadership and performance measures but they fell significantly behind in one key area: vision.1 In our coaching conversations, we hear that women feel more comfortable implementing vision than formulating it and selling it to others. As one woman told us, “It feels easier to keep my head down and get the important work done. Setting the larger strategic agenda is a different matter altogether.”

This type of thinking reveals a confidence issue that has massive career implications. It’s no surprise that a study of more than forty-seven thousand global leaders found that the biggest single differentiator between top management and middle managers was their strategic vision.2 Having strategic vision is a critical competency. Part of the disconnect for women may be a style issue. Women tend to be collaborative and work to create a consensus around big ideas as opposed to owning them themselves. While there is no doubt that female executives have big-picture vision, the challenge is giving ourselves permission to speak up and enroll others in our visions.

“I can’t think of myself as big”

One of us was coaching a young partner at an engineering firm. She was striving to gain traction as a leader and struggling to articulate a career path for herself. When pressed to think broadly and articulate an ideal future for herself three to five years out, she was stumped. “I can’t think of myself as big,” she said. “I feel stuck in the moment and I can’t envision landing in a larger role.”

This type of limiting belief is common. Most of the women we work with feel stuck at one time or another. There’s no question they are committed to building their careers, but everything from office politics and financial pressure to commitments at home and anxiety about world events can make them feel trapped in their current circumstances. Their careers can sometimes become unstuck on their own, when things inevitably calm down. Other times, people benefit from an intervention from a coach or mentor.

It’s vital for women to aim higher and envision a future state for themselves. A male executive friend of ours said, “You have to be able to outrun your headlights.” He meant that we need to see ourselves beyond the here and now. If we don’t see ourselves as “big,” no one around us will.

“I’m an impostor”

A coaching client of ours, Karen, fell victim to her limiting beliefs six years ago. Karen is a CPA and an accomplished partner at a large accounting firm. She had provided outstanding service to many medium-size and large clients over the years. However, when the firm nominated Karen as a candidate to be an engagement partner for a large and prestigious blue-ribbon client, she faltered. Karen was one of the two outstanding candidates that the firm was proposing to the client. The audit committee of the client’s board would interview both candidates and choose the one they thought was the best. Karen confided in her coach that she believed she was “not a good match” for the job. She had a litany of concerns, both rational and otherwise: “I am not as sophisticated as the board members on the Audit Committee. I get nervous in interview situations. I’m not good at small talk. I’m sure they will not pick me.”

Karen felt like an impostor. She believed that she was not as good as the firm said she was and that the audit committee would see right through her. After that, the firm would know she had been “faking it” all these years, and that would be the end of her career.

The impostor syndrome, a term coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Ament Imes in 1978, is a phenomenon in which very accomplished people are unable to believe and accept their own accomplishments. They believe they have “fooled” others into thinking they are more competent than they really are.3 Many successful women fall victim to the impostor syndrome, but it is a somewhat rare phenomenon for successful men.4 One reason is that the parameters of success in contemporary society are biased toward men.5 According to Psychology Today writers Satoshi Kanazawa and Kaja Perina, “Nobody recognizes women who are successful in female terms. So, part of the problem may be definitional.”6

Karen worked hard with her coach to rid herself of the extreme limiting beliefs. In preparation for the interview, she spent many hours reviewing information about the client and its history with the firm. She also worked on executive presence—right down to clothes, jewelry, and makeup—which was of particular concern to her. She even practiced entering the boardroom, shaking hands, managing introductions, and making small talk. All of this helped to build Karen’s self-confidence.

Most important, Karen worked on her psyche. With her coach’s help, she began to notice the negative thoughts she had about herself. She learned to catch herself when her inner voice told her something irrational, untrue, or belittling. Gradually, Karen learned positive thinking and self-talk.

When the day before the interview arrived, Karen called her coach. We asked her, “Are you feeling ready and prepared for tomorrow?” Karen answered, “Yes, I’m definitely ready. I feel great about my preparation and I feel great about myself as a candidate. I am convinced that I can do an outstanding job for this client. If they don’t pick me I can handle it, but I know they would be lucky to have me.

Karen faced the impostor syndrome head on and put it behind her. We were delighted to see her conquer her limiting beliefs. For the record, the audit committee chose her as their new engagement partner, and she was a noted success in the role.

Questions for Reflection

How do you orient yourself to “think bigger”? What negative messages are you telling yourself?

 Close your eyes and visualize yourself doing something “bigger” with your career. Can you describe what you see and write it down?

 Now, have you got some big ideas? Who can you share them with?

STRATEGIES for Thinking Bigger and Aiming Higher

Regina works in a pressure-cooker environment. She assists states in setting up multi-million-dollar disaster recovery projects and emergency response systems that enable the distribution of critical funds, program monitoring, and oversight that complies with federal regulations. It’s a highly complex job that saves lives, and Regina thrives on it. Yet it didn’t start out quite like this. Regina made it happen by thinking bigger, aiming higher, and courageously steering her career.

As a resident of Metairie, Louisiana, in 2005, Regina was distraught as she witnessed the widespread devastation delivered when Hurricane Katrina crippled the region. As part of the New Orleans metropolitan area, Metairie was in the epicenter of the storm. At the time, Regina was an oil and gas consultant for a big professional services firm, focusing on business opportunities in the Gulf Coast region. When she looked around following the storm, all she saw was stagnation.

“Nothing was moving. Not trash, not water, and especially not the money parishes and townships needed to start the long road to recovery.”

Regina was pleasantly surprised when her firm asked her to be part of a three-month project to help the State of Louisiana begin to make their disaster recovery efforts more efficient. She knew very little about government contracts and public works risk assessment. But she did understand how to connect the dots between problems and processes. She thrived in crisis situations and had a talent for finding solutions.

Regina saw a big opportunity to make things better. “We couldn’t speed up the trash pick-up ourselves or return people to their homes,” she recalled, “but we could find a way to get billions of dollars into the right hands faster.”

Regina and her team created a process to make government recovery funds available within ten days of a request. It was a dramatic improvement that required thinking differently. The bureaucratic roadblocks were significant, and there was potential for misappropriation of funds.

The twelve-week engagement stretched out to three years, and every second was a roller coaster ride. By then, Regina was hooked on the mission. The project was an aha moment for her, and she had no intention of returning to everyday management consulting.

Regina had a big dream, and she turned it into a vision to build a new practice at the firm that focused on crisis management and recovery.

For Regina, thinking bigger and aiming higher were pivotal steps along the path to achieving influence. For all of us, achieving influence requires that we have a bold vision to guide our actions. There are five strategies that we use with our coaching clients to help them create and sustain lofty visions.

1. Nurture your vision

Now that you have been practicing thinking bigger, you are getting close to creating a bold career vision for yourself. Don’t let go of it. Don’t tell yourself all of the reasons it won’t work. Your vision may be somewhat blurry or vague right now, but if you continue to nurture it, it will develop into a clear picture that guides your behavior and your decisions.

So how do you nurture your vision? First, you need to share that vision with others. One of the reasons we lose out on jobs and assignments is that we don’t declare our interest. If you have a bold vision, you need to tell people about it. The more you do that, the better you will become at making your case and enrolling others in your cause.

To nurture your vision, you must step outside your comfort zone. You must take the risk of owning your big idea before gaining full consensus from the group. You may need to stand firm when your ideas are challenged. In Regina’s case, she put her career on the line. She told us, “If this doesn’t work, I’ll need to leave the firm and reinvent myself.”

Nurturing your vision also requires the courage to act. As women, we need to communicate our vision without resorting to overanalysis. Many of us are armed with reports, case studies, and rigorous financial modeling. Are these things important? Sure. Can they sometimes be crutches that slow us down? Definitely. Nurturing your vision requires the courage to know when to set aside the PowerPoint slides and simply say what you believe in.

Similarly, nurturing your vision requires leaving your emotional baggage behind. One of the things we’ve learned through our coaching is that many women take adversity personally. But remember, being a change agent invariably leaves battle scars. You will meet resistance and you will have to overcome obstacles. When your ideas are voted down or can’t get the attention of key leaders, don’t take the setback personally. This is all part of your career process.

2. Check the weather

Now that you have a vision, you must remember to “check the weather,” again and again. Think of it this way: If your vision is to drive from Cincinnati to Chicago, you will do a lot of checking before and during your trip. You will check the weather forecast. You will make sure your car is tuned up and filled with gas. You will pack clothes, food, and other supplies.

Checking the weather in a business setting is similar. While keeping your destination (your vision) foremost in your mind, you must simultaneously look for all external influences and obstacles that could impact your progress. What is going on with your customers? What about budgets? How does your vision coincide with overall company strategy?

Checking the weather is different from vision, because vision places emphasis on a single desired outcome. It is also distinct from strategies, which are the approaches we use to achieve our desired outcome. We advise checking the weather continually, because external forces can alter our options and perceptions. Checking the weather keeps us moving forward. It helps us navigate uncertainty and steer our path successfully. The executives we interviewed for our research overwhelmingly emphasized the importance of having a “panoramic view” of the journey, not just a narrow focus on the destination.

Regina’s vision was her ultimate dream of building a practice around crisis management and recovery. The moment she envisioned and identified this goal, she started checking the weather repeatedly. She encountered the initial challenge of creating a process for delivering funds in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She managed the ongoing bureaucracy during the extended recovery process for New Orleans and beyond. She factored in the implications of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and how the legislation might impact her grand plan. She also considered the trillions of dollars in government grant money and how that would be the basis for building a business case within her firm.

Regina told us that focusing purposefully on checking the weather enabled her to achieve her vision. It guided her in several ways, including the following:

  • AS A FILTER TO GUIDE HER DECISION MAKING. Regina checked the weather when making strategic decisions that advanced her cause. When she was offered a position back in traditional consulting, for example, she was able to take a pass without experiencing misgivings because she knew the role would not take her where she wanted to go.
  • AS A TOOL TO HELP HER SELL HER BIG IDEA. Checking the weather helped Regina “see” the idea and describe it to others. She could articulate not only her vision for a new practice but also the potential obstacles and how she planned to route around them.
  • AS A WAY TO NAVIGATE AMBIGUITY. Checking the weather gave Regina the confidence she needed to believe in her vision. It also allowed her to change strategies as surrounding events developed. Regina remained agile as staffing, budgeting, and funding ebbed and flowed, because checking the weather forced her to envision various options and contingencies.

3. Train your brain

Vision requires grit and resolve, and we know that women have these things in reserve. Yet, gaining influence and leading change are lengthy endeavors, and setbacks come with the territory. In order to help manage the leap-of-faith aspect of thinking bigger, we use a few thought tools to help us sustain our momentum.

As events change, remember to pause and adjust your approach. Ask yourself, what strategic adjustments must I make to remain on course? Making subtle changes in your actions helps sync your strategy with current realities, and making small shifts in thinking will help you remain relevant and realistic. And both of these will help you keep your message current as you sell your agenda to colleagues.

Practice shifting timeframes. What happens if a major career opportunity presents itself sooner than expected? What will you need to do to be ready? How will you react if your plans are sidelined due to office politics or budget constraints? What are your contingency plans? Considering various timing alternatives periodically will help keep you vigilant and resilient.

Finally, we suggest looking at your vision through multiple lenses. When Regina looked at her plan through a business lens, she articulated it in this way: “I want to build a new practice at my firm around crisis management and recovery.” When she examined it using her personal values as the lens, she thought about it in another way: “I want my work to make a difference to people who need help.” Examining your vision through multiple lenses—business objectives, career, personal values, and so on—is yet another way to make your big dreams attainable.

4. Cut the grass

Much of the work we do to help women think bigger and aim higher amounts to mental boot camp. It takes considerable resolve to develop the type of confidence, resilience, and situational awareness that leadership and influence require. Our final assignment for flexing your mental muscles amounts to metaphorically cutting the grass.

Ideas require time to marinate. Some of us run on the treadmill or sit by the ocean when we need to stop and reflect. One of our clients goes outside and cuts the grass.

Cutting the grass means taking time to unplug from the rush of our day-to-day lives. We need to turn away from e-mail, smartphones, and meetings to think and reflect. Our brains need time to reboot. Our reflection model is simple and powerful: Do. Reflect. Learn. Most of the time we are busy rushing from place to place without pause. Cutting the grass means intentionally taking time out to reflect. Through reflection, we learn. Through learning, we discover what is working for us and what is not working so well. Reflection and learning are the keys to helping us adjust our strategies so we can direct our momentum toward achieving our vision. Only through reflection and deep thinking can we mindfully plan for the future. Escape from the rush and cut the grass!

5. Embrace your passion

We know that Regina’s vision was a labor of love. She said it was much more than a job for her. Hundreds of people worked with her in crisis management and recovery, and most moved on before she found the right core team of people who could help her build a sustainable practice. The common denominator across the team, she discovered, was shared passion. We see this in our work coaching women to think bigger. Our own passion is built on our vision that more women leaders at the top will make business better and everyone will benefit. What is your passion built on?

Passion, confidence, and the ability to think big are some of the starting points for achieving influence. All of these are internal factors that propel us forward and allow us to begin to build the infrastructure we need to develop and grow in our careers. In the next chapter, we will examine some external prerequisites along the journey to fostering the Influence Effect.

Executive Summary

  • Failing to think bigger and aim higher is a misstep many of us make when we move into higher levels of leadership.
  • Several things drain our influence and power: being perceived as “less strategic” than men; falling victim to the impostor syndrome; the inability to see the immense potential in ourselves and our careers.
  • Nurturing a bold vision requires getting unstuck, thinking bigger, and sharing your vision openly with others.
  • “Checking the weather,” or looking around our environment to consider context and outside factors, vastly improves our planning and delivers better outcomes.
  • Making strategic adjustments, shifting timeframes, and looking at our end goal through multiple lenses are ways we can train our brain to think bigger.
  • Taking time out for reflection (or “cutting the grass”) helps us be resilient and maintain perspective.
  • Passion needs to be a part of our purpose and what propels us to achieve influence.

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“I applaud the authors of The Influence Effect for providing women everywhere with actionable strategies that will help them use influence as a tool to succeed at the highest levels of leadership.” —Susan DeVore, CEO, Premier Inc.

“Influence is critical in getting to the C-Suite. The strategies offered in The Influence Effect highlight the value of influence and how female executives can achieve it—without sacrificing their authentic selves.”
—Peter Grauer, Chairman, Bloomberg LP, Founding Chairman, U.S. 30% Club

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—Susan Penfield, Executive Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton

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—Bernie Swain, Chairman & Co-Founder, Washington Speakers Bureau

“The Influence Effect is a must-read—a captivating blend of real stories, research, practical advice and humor, it's an essential and powerful tool for all women interested in simplifying the path to success.”
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—Bonnie St. John, Olympic Medalist and bestselling author of Micro-Resilience: Minor Shifts for Major Boosts

“Who wins when we close the gaps between men and women? Everyone. Thank you, Flynn Heath Holt Leadership, for focusing on “building influence” as the way forward. I recommend The Influence Effect to every leader who wants fast clarity on what's at stake—and how to make the outcomes much better for people, better for business, and better for the world
.”—Michael C. Bush, CEO, Great Place to Work

“Women need to gain influence. The Influence Effect provides simple and practical tools to empower women to gain access to the C-suite.”
—Greg D. Carmichael, President and CEO, Fifth Third Bank

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—Rich Karlgaard, Forbes Publisher, bestselling author, award-winning entrepreneur, and speaker

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—Chip R. Bell, author of Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles

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—John Gerzema, CEO of Harris Insights & Analytics/The Harris Poll, NYT Bestselling Author, Social Scientist, and Speaker

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