Many people enter organizations or endeavors with the fairytale belief that the merit of their cause, or the strength of their efforts, is enough to accomplish their goals. While both of these attributes are worthy, their ultimate value may prove to be disappointing, particularly if those goals include some type of organizational or institutional change.
The truth is, neither resolve nor hard work can accomplish much without influence. Absent influence, an idea is as impotent and unbinding as a figment of your imagination. Influence is the leverage that converts ideas into action. Unfortunately, no amount of reason, or even popularity, can serve as a substitute. Influence is a prerequisite to change. This can be a hard pill for some to swallow, particularly if you are among the young, the passionate or the self-reliant. I know this first hand, as I have myself evolved through each of these categories.
“The cultivation of influence is an essential investment, for it can make effortless, what would otherwise be impossible.” – Author’s Note
Influence is an asset that persuades compliance via obligation or association. It is an executive-level tool that sways decisions, opens doors and facilitates connections. For most, it comes by way of their professional, political or social status, and is derived through their control over relevant people or resources. Influence can also be obtained vicariously, through the leverage of friends or acquaintances who hold influential positions. Finally, influence can be bartered through the use of favors, gifts or services. Regardless of how it is obtained, the key question we must all ask ourselves is, “How can I obtain the influence I need to accomplish my (or my organization’s) goal.”
This critical question should be asked as early as possible, and needs to become an integral aspect of any action plan. In fact, the cultivation of influence should become the key component of any efforts you undertake. To some, this may seem to be an indirect, counter-intuitive, or maybe even disingenuous way of accomplishing a goal. But I encourage you to think otherwise. The fact is, the accumulation of influence is an investment that will ultimately enable you to accomplish far more, while exerting far less.
The leverage of influence is the cornerstone of the American political system. It is the lifeblood of most executive-level professional dealings. It is a key component of most corporate business deals and, if you’ve had trouble accomplishing your goals, it is probably the missing ingredient in your strategy.
Though hard work and resolve may ultimately bring your goals within reach, a lack of influence will impose terrific consequences upon your efforts. You will work twice as hard. It will take twice as long. You’ll use twice as many resources and you’ll make twice as much noise. All of these negative circumstances have opportunity costs for you or your organization. Exhaustion, frustration and tempestuous interactions are likely to accompany your hard-fought progress. Along the way, good ideas will be lost and meaningful projects will go incomplete.
Influence can make effortless, what would otherwise be impossible. Moreover, the absence of influence renders you, or your cause, subservient to those who have it. For some of you, these few paragraphs will have offered nothing new or exciting. I also know, however, that some of you have just experienced a revelation of thought. I was one of you. The concept of influence did not come naturally to me. It took a long time for me to accept it, and I often wonder what could have been, had I done so sooner.
The challenge for all of us is to continually evaluate and improve our efforts. We must identify what’s working and what’s not, who’s succeeding where we aren’t, who’s getting more done with less effort, and who’s got it figured out if we don’t. Until you have it, a lack of influence will play a key role in each of these questions. We must never forfeit our values, our integrity or our self-respect. But we must never turn a blind eye to the importance of this omnipresent and universally effective asset.
Read Part II of This Article: Cultivating Influence by Timothy Shoemaker