Ah influence. That …..thing…..that……aspirational magic that (supposedly) propels one into the inner sanctum of secret decision making. It is a deity like presence that wafts around board room tables, and which workers spend a lot of time chasing down with holey butterfly nets. Its presence is noted by compulsory attendance at every strategy meeting, plotted for in account plans, an essential addition to every performance review discussion.
I have been doing a lot of thinking about Influence; and how important it has become in contemporary corporate culture, and how sustainable that crown is, in a future workplace.
I am beginning to wonder if we aren't all being taken for a bit of a ride.
No one argues that influence can get you places, what no one seems to have knuckled down is whether this is a natural innate phenomenon, unique to an individual used in every facet of life and work equally- or whether it is a skill than can be pursued, learned and exerted by an individual for their benefit, called on when needed. Finally; I wonder; is it even important anymore in a future freelance economy?
So let us boil this down for a minute, categorise it into themes and work through whether they are passing their 'use by' date or useful for us as we look forward.
This is where you make it up the ladder, because you were literally dragged up by someone above you. That super special project that only the blessed get to work on, and you have been asked to be part of. That perfect assignment that you were given, and that allowed you to work to all your strengths and passions. That time when your boss gave you an unexpected promotion. These are all examples where someone simply decided for you that you could wield the power and gave it to you to wield. Rare I know; but nonetheless terrifically exciting!
Where someone from further up, provides a safety rope for you, then you climb up for yourself. This is where someone of import ( or influence themselves) encourages you to take on assignments or projects that have some bearing of risk, which they are willing to support and back you as you fumble through. The work is all yours, the grit is all yours, but the risk is shared[- because someone believes you can make it happen, and sings your praises to any naysayers. They are there to provide guidance and support when you fall. This form of influence is generally common, wonderful when present in your life and gut wrenching, impossibly hard to achieve anything, without.
Generated Influence - disruption
Aha - a new entrant ! Or not. It has been around since the Dawn of Man. Disruptors are those who take their guts and their passion, put their head down, their horns on, and just climb that damn ladder anyway, generating influence along the way like you would gather fish in a fishing net off the back of a trawler at sea. It is incredibly difficult to maintain due its risky nature ( at any time those up the ladder will contrive to stop you, beat you down and prevent you from progressing) but in the long term it can very very successful. No one forgets a trail blazer, those scars give you a story to tell and an experience to sell.
I am sure as you read these that you can find examples throughout your life where you have experienced each one, gathering and building your own influence as you go, sometimes building it up in one part of your life, and perhaps losing it spectacularly in another. Is it a learned skill for you or is it something you find comes naturally?
And is all that important in the grand scheme? In this whole new world of the incoming freelance economy will anyone hear when influence screams?
Influence, when pursued; is hard to catch, near impossible to keep and rarely tamed. Networking can only get you so far, as can the success of your latest project; because at some point you need to consistently produce, or be in a position that you can use others or trademark your prior work's IP so that it is the gift that keeps giving. Even then very few people can maintain that level of influence as a construct.
Why? because at the end of the day influence is an internal creation, usually ignited by an external stimulation. One rarely gets going without the other.
So if we move into a world where we are isolationists colliding together to create, are any of the above categories going to survive?
Like any of our usual crutches, the role of influence will be reshaped and re-designed to fit. 'Permissioned influence' may die with the organisations who fail to transform, 'Sponsored Influence' will likely re-shape into something far less structured, more fluid and will be short bursts of support that come and go far quicker than we experience now. 'Generated Influence', now there is something interesting; it hasn't changed since the Dawn of Man, so why change now?
So in conclusion, if you want to survive the influence 'kool aid', be smart enough to do it for yourself on your own terms.
Think well and think forward.