What’s the secret to building influence?
Becoming more influential is actually a pretty simple matter. But simple doesn’t mean easy. One evening not too long ago, someone gave me a brief demonstration of how to go about building influence, and showed that any of us can do it, if we are willing to make the effort.
Is It Soup Yet?
The blue mini-van pulled into camp a half hour before dinner time. “Mrs. Green” hopped out and asked, “Where do you want it?”
Our troop had just finished a full day of canoeing on the Susquehanna River. It was cool outside, some Scouts were a little damp, and they were working together to breathe life into a stubborn fire.
Also: they were hungry.
The tight timeline meant that it made sense to have a parent bring dinner in to camp. Mrs. Green, a parent who was new to our troop, had volunteered for the job.
Once she knew where to set up, she went into action. What followed was the sort of crisp battle drill execution that would make any infantry commander proud.
On cue, her daughter hopped out of the van to help, and what happened next was so fast and smooth, I can only assume they had spent the afternoon rehearsing.
• Tables set up and loaded with stacks of plates, bins of cutlery, and piles of napkins.
• Heaping hot trays of food lined up: mac and cheese, green beans, spaghetti, rolls, apple sauce, and salad.
• Back up trays with more food placed at the ready.
• Serving utensils arrayed in soldierly fashion next to their designated entree.
• Drink station established, with three choices, plenty of cups, and even marking pens to personalize them.
• Hand-washing station set up to clean our hands before the meal, and trash bags distributed for the dirty stuff afterwards.
Dinner was hot, delicious, and ready 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
OK, you might think. Big deal – she brought chow.
Yes, but this was about so much more than feeding some hungry people.
The way that Mrs. Green handled this simple but important task told us volumes about who she was, and her potential to do even greater things.
Bring Your “A” Game.
How do you go about building influence? We can all take a lesson from Mrs. Green’s actions that evening.
1. Step up. When the team needs something, be willing to step up, volunteer, and accept responsibility to help out. Serving is influencing.
2. Be reliable. She was on time, delivered on her promise, and demonstrated that she could be trusted. If you want to be entrusted with big things, start by showing you can handle the smaller ones. Seek to build trust with every action.
3. Bring your “A” Game. Sure, she could have gotten away with bringing us a big bag of hamburgers and some greasy fries. That’s just not how she rolls. She showed us what her standards were by treating us to a riverside banquet, and doing it with style. Whatever your role, always give it your best.
4. Speak with your actions. Some people find it easy to boast about what they can do, but you find that the loudest voices don’t always have the best idea, or deliver what they promise. Mrs. Green quietly proved in 15 minutes that she knew what she was doing, and earned our respect and appreciation in the process.
5. Come prepared. She and her daughter seemed to have thought through everything from start to finish. I asked for paper towels, they had them. Cleaning items? Extra forks? Butter for the rolls? Check, check, and check. When it’s clear you have done your homework for one event, people will have greater confidence in you for the next.
6. Don’t be indispensable. This one might be easy to miss. Mrs. Green was definitely making herself very helpful to have around, but she wasn’t making herself indispensable. If she became the only one capable of performing that function, then she risks being stuck in that role forever. Where’s the upward mobility in that?
The key here is to look at what was happening with her daughter. By example and instruction, Mrs. Green was teaching her daughter what high standards and good preparation looked like. She was preparing her daughter to be successful in her own right.
Building Influence – The Takeaway
After dinner, we all circled around and thanked Mrs. Green. In doing such a great job, she had earned our respect. She smiled, quickly and efficiently packed her things away, and was gone.
We were smiling too. Our stomachs were full, we were ahead of schedule, and we realized we had someone on the team who was capable of a whole lot more than what we had asked her to do.
Our group was blessed to have several people like Mrs. Green helping out. Because of them, things went well, and everybody benefited.
And you can bet, when they had someting to say, we were listening.
Building influence in this way is a simple matter in concept. Step forward, be reliable, bring your “A” game, speak with your actions, do the homework, and help others grow.
Anyone can build influence by doing these things.
Yet the number of people who actually do seems small.
Maybe that’s why we respect them so much.