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Lessons from the King’s Speech – How to Influence Without Authority

March9_LarsonI recently saw the “The King’s Speech,” a movie about the relationship between the stammering King George VI of England and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue. The movie begins when the future king is still the Duke of York, Albert. At first the relationship is a rocky one. Although he eventually becomes the king’s trusted advisor, Mr. Logue doesn’t begin the relationship as such. He has little to recommend him, since neither his credentials nor his social status grant him instant credibility. The disparity in their births, culture (Logue was Australian), and breeding is daunting. So how is this commoner able to help the monarch and become his life-long friend? He is a master at influencing with absolutely no authority.

There are some lessons here for those of us business analysts and project managers whose jobs depend on our ability to influence without authority. I’ve chosen three that can help us with our projects.

Lesson #1. To influence without authority we need to establish trust.

Logue says at the beginning of the movie, when the future George VI is still Albert, the Duke of York, that the duke that he needs to trust him. But of course trust cannot be dictated. It has to be built. And it doesn’t happen right away either in the movie or in real life. Two key components of trust, courage and competence, have to be established. In the movie, Mr. Logue has to demonstrate his courage and prove his competency by getting results.

An example of Logue’s courage occurs towards the beginning of the movie. When the therapy begins, Mr. Logue insists on equality during the therapy sessions. Albert has to agree to the therapy at Logue’s home, not at one of the royal palaces. Surprisingly, the Duke agrees, although not without loud and vociferous protestations. In another example, Logue insists on calling the Duke “Bertie” and in turn being called Lionel, a familiarity unheard of. Logue knows that unless they are partners during the therapy, it will not be successful, and a true partnership requires equality.

Our projects require us to be courageous. In some organizations it takes a great deal of courage to be the bearer of bad news, as when we need to provide accurate project status or when we point out risks. It takes courage to recommend the right thing for the organization, like a new direction, a new process, or a long-range solution when the organization wants short-term fixes. What gives us courage, of course, is knowing what we’re talking about. It’s having the facts and the statistic to back up our recommendations. It’s being prepared. It’s also the ability to articulate and sell our recommendations. When our recommendations turn out to help our organizations, we gain credibility and build trust.

Lesson #2. To influence without authority we need to support the decision-makers with our advice.

Although Logue insists on parameters, the decision whether or not to continue the therapy always lies with the king. The therapist recommends, the king decides. From time to time the king decides not to continue the therapy. He simply walks away. However, Logue’s techniques prove successful, so the separation is not permanent. It is clear throughout that Logue’s advice is always given unselfishly and always for the good of the king and country, not his own ego or pocketbook, which I believe is a key factor in the successful outcome.

We, too, need to advise the decision-makers and make recommendations that will help the organization achieve its goals. When we recommend the right thing, without promoting our personal goals, those very goals may well be fulfilled. Years ago I was a manager in the unenviable position of having to eliminate an entire department. The department supervisor remained positive throughout, recommending shut-down and transfer processes. Somehow he communicated the business need for the shut-down and his own optimism to the staff. In the end he was promoted and none of the staff lost their jobs.

Lesson #3. Respect, authenticity, and empathy help us to influence without authority.

In real life Lionel Logue was said to be successful because of his “superhuman sympathy.” In the movie Logue  treats the king and his disability with total dignity, his empathy and concern apparent throughout. Showing neither embarrassment nor condescension as the king stutters through practice readings, Logue listens intently and offers workarounds to help the king through trouble spots. He does unseemly vocal exercise with the king, as though these are the most natural activities for a king and commoner to engage in.

 In our organizations we have a greater chance of influencing when our approach is respectful, authentic, and empathetic. Expertise alone does not create competency. Most people do not relate well to “know-it-alls,” and trying to showcase our expertise rarely builds credibility. We are most successful when we use our expertise to support the organization, rather than for personal gain or visibility.

There are, of course, many more ways to influence without authority. I have chosen three important ones: establish trust, advise and recommend solutions that help our organizations reach their goals, and use empathy and respect in our relationships.

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Elizabeth Larson

Elizabeth Larson, PMP, CBAP, CSM, PMI-PBA is a consultant and advisor for Watermark Learning/Project Management Academy, and has over 35 years of experience in project management and business analysis. Elizabeth’s speaking history includes keynotes and presentations for national and international conferences on five continents. Elizabeth has co-authored five books and chapters published in four additional books, as well as articles that appear regularly in BA Times and Project Times. Elizabeth was a lead author/expert reviewer on all editions of the BABOK® Guide, as well as several of the PMI standards. Elizabeth enjoys traveling, hiking, reading, theater, and spending time with her 6 grandsons and 1 granddaughter.

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