Book Review: Influencing Up by Allan R. Cohen and David L. Bradford
Reviewed by Susan MacKenzie
In my work with leaders at The Roundtable, I find that the ability to make an impact at higher levels is and will always be a topic of interest, and often, frustration. Influencing Up by Allan R. Cohen and David L. Bradford takes the position that in order to effectively influence up, you need to forge an effective partnership, one that includes you as the proactive junior partner. Whether you are looking to influence your boss or other senior members in your organization, this book gives you step-by-step direction on how to be a partner who is trusted, candid and who puts the success of the organization up front; with tips related to your boss, as well as those seniors you don’t report to directly. The authors, professors with extensive consulting experience, have crafted a very well-structured guide with strategies and steps outlined for the reader. If you are planning to influence up to the executive level, there are three chapters alone on how to access and engage the most powerful in your organization, as well as good troubleshooting tips for when things don’t go as planned.
Even if it’s not the most exciting read, I found many of the strategies outlined in Influencing Up were good reminders of the necessity to put time into solid, trust-based relationships. Cohen and Bradford place an emphasis on really understanding your boss’ worldview over pushing your own agenda. Understanding that the power to influence up in an organization is infinite, means you can build your own power without lessening others. Leaders give away their personal power in many ways, including being overly sensitive to hierarchy or over-worrying about repercussions for telling the truth. My personal ‘a-ha’ moment came when they discussed how people perceive the senior level when they don’t buy into your ideas or the issues you’ve raised (yes, even if you were absolutely right). I know that I for one, have been guilty of not being able to let go and move forward. There are several case studies in the book which I found really helpful that can be applied to troubleshoot influence scenarios.
I think this is a good read (if not the most stimulating) for leaders who are finding roadblocks when it comes to getting heard and moving agendas forward either with their reporting manager or senior leaders. It also provides lots of angles to consider when executing your “Influencing Up” strategy. If you’ve got some experience in successfully maneuvering upwards, it’s still a good refresher, as any time people, pressure and objectives change, the game ultimately changes.