Management of a team is a hot topic for consultants looking to leave the industry. The question of “will I have direct reports?” remains a make-or-break for some when considering opportunities post-consulting. But there is another kind of management – often taken for granted – that can be equally critical when building your career and impact on an organization: management through influence.
The differences between consulting and corporate are vast, and consultants often underestimate the need to “play the game” and cater to the existing processes, structure, and relationships of their new organization to drive their individual agendas. Management through influence – the ability to delicately maneuver a bureaucratic landscape by persuading (rather than directing) others toward action – remains paramount in leveraging the resources, networks, and power of those beyond your direct team, to drive permeating impact that goes well beyond your area of responsibility.
Reasons you may want to think twice (or at least once) about management through influence:
- It exists in every role, at all levels. In an organization made up of people, teams, and functions, management through influence is of the utmost importance regardless of your level in a company – from CEO down. Mastering this skill, and keeping it a priority, will be as important in your next role, if not more so.
- It increases efficiency. Depending on the size and existing processes of the company you join, there can be a lot of steps in between you and what you need to get done. Leaning on people outside of your direct scope can be necessary in cutting the number of hoops you need to jump through, or at least help you jump a little faster.
- It simplifies corporate politics. It’s no secret that corporate landscapes come with politics, and the ability to sensitively maneuver the political scene can be vital in getting support and movement on your key initiatives.
- It promotes sponsorship of ideas. Senior-level buy-in will often be necessary. Being able to tap into the influence of others could be the difference in getting your initiative off the ground.
- It begins immediately. Head count and direct management can develop over time. Managing through influence starts on day 1. As a consultant moving into industry, taking on a team while also trying to build your network (and create a base off of which to manage through influence) can be especially, and in some cases devastatingly, difficult. Functions like internal strategy, which often have leaner teams and do not provide direct management opportunities, depend on cross-functional relationships as a basis upon which most every initiative is achieved. Starting in one of these roles / functions can give you a leg up, by allowing you to learn the business and make relationships with others throughout the rest of the organization that you will need – team or no team – down the line.
Keep in mind, it’s harder to be great at management through influence than it is to be great at direct management. Management through influence cannot be an afterthought. It takes a sustained effort, and if you focus too much on direct management (or are given too much direct management responsibility early on) you might miss out on the opportunity to develop this ability to influence, which is so critical to corporate success. Be sure to give it the attention it deserves.