“You can never really live anyone else’s life, not even your child’s. The influence you exert is through your own life, and what you’ve become yourself.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Influencer. This is a word bandied about quite a bit. It’s usually associated with someone in a leadership, management or pop culture position. Being labeled an influencer has a positive connotation and it’s a compliment. It means the person with this brand has earned his/her stripes and is now being recognized for their knowledge and strengths, but along with this acknowledgment comes a huge responsibility. Specifically, the responsibility lies in how someone wields this position.
Not exactly the opposite of influencer, but different in subtle and meaningful ways, is the manipulator. Many people define this person as someone who acts to gain an advantage for the sole benefit of him/herself. When comparing the two, influencers, elicit a profoundly more positive opinion. In a business setting, influencers are likely, people in a leadership role with oversight of other individuals. However, there are plenty of situations where someone wasn’t a member of leadership, initially anyway, but through dedication to his/her cause rose to the influencer distinction (and more).
Two such people are Crystal Lee Sutton a.k.a. “Norma Rae” and Lech Walesa. So what did these people do that brands them an influencer rather than manipulator? They used their voice and actions to find a better way for the many.
Influencing For The Good
In the case of Ms. Sutton, she fought for the rights of herself and fellow co-workers who endured hard work and long hours for very low wages that were not in keeping with the labor laws at that period of time. She symbolically became the voice of the people within her organization, and with that she galvanized her co-workers to unite and fight for the rights due them.
For Lech Walesa, he fought for the rights of skilled labor in communist Poland. He rallied his co-workers to unite and deny the factions that set out to deny their labor rights and benefits. He used his influence to gain advantages for the disenfranchised and for that he was later recognized and elected the President of Poland.
Ms. Sutton and Lech Walesa are two people who bridled their motivation and used their influence for the betterment of many.
Thinking back to recent history, there are many stories about influencers who used their voice and actions to advance mankind or simply to advance the mission of their organization. Often times, these people were in leadership roles and because of this, could gather an audience by request.
One person who stands out this way is Howard Schultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, who uses his notoriety and influence to create programs for veterans suffering from PTSD and young adults in need of a job. As Shultz states, “Success is best when it’s shared.”
Not Always In The Spotlight
The people I mention have all done great things to advance improvements in their particular situations, but what about the people who have not gained fame for their ability to influence positively? Through my own business dealings I know many. They’re not the people you read about on The Huffington Post or in Time, but they are people who use their influence carefully, skillfully and with intent to do good rather than harm.
Being able to reach people through the spoken word or with actions is a very powerful statement, and as I mentioned, it comes with tremendous responsibility. Often times, the best way to inspire is to live beyond the spoken word and influence by example.
Organizing your strategy and clarifying intentions is helpful before you take action. It’s important to recognize the difference between intentional manipulation and stalwart influencing. Next time you’re in a position to use your influence, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I doing this for my gain or the betterment of other people, or my organization?
- How will everyone benefit from my words and actions?
- Have I thought this through carefully?
- Will anyone/thing be harmed by the outcome?
- What approach will be most effective without intimidating people?
By addressing these questions, you’ve examined your own intentions. People who want to, truly, cast influence without the effect of manipulation, consider it second nature to contemplate this before taking action. People who influence responsibly are not instilling guilt, being confrontational, withdrawing support, or making people feel “on guard” or trapped to acquiesce. Responsible influencers prefer to provide substantive information to help build their case and implement reasoning to help people understand. Though the end-result may benefit the influencer, others will, also, benefit and gain from listening and choosing to take the suggested path.
Everyone has the ability to influence, and utilizing your emotional intelligence can be very helpful in steering your approach and guiding your moral compass. Just be the influencer you respect. If you see the good, others will likely, as well.