Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

How Influential Are You?

How influential are you? If I asked most people that question, the answer would probably be, “Not very.” If I asked you who is influential, you’d likely point out famous leaders, great artists, perhaps celebrities, maybe even scientists, or some of your past teachers. But this is not the whole story. When we only recognize the influence of those we look up to, we are leaving out an important consideration: The powers that each and every one of us naturally possess.To see what I mean, take a moment to write down all the people who influence you throughout your day. First, think of the courteous people, the friendly people, and the other people whose actions affect you in a positive way.It might be a bus driver that waited for you instead of driving off. Or someone more significant, like a mentor that helped you make a decision that paid off tremendously.  Think about how you feel and think after you interact with them: You likely feel better about your day and your world. They may even encourage you to behave more generously yourself.

Once you’ve done that, think about all the negative people you met. Note the effect they have on you, from annoyance to major disturbance. Maybe your boss presented your work as his or her own, and it really got under your skin. Or perhaps a friend you were supposed to meet for dinner cancelled on you at the last minute and you got upset.

Finally, contemplate these instances from the opposite perspective. Take all those times of influence and imagine how, when the tables are turned, YOU have had the same positive (and sometimes) negative influence on others.

The point of this exercise isn’t therapeutic. Rather, it’s to demonstrate how great a capacity every single one of us has to influence those around us. It’s not that we don’t have influence: all of us do, and plenty of it. The problem is that many of us fail to recognize our power to influence. As a result, we don’t harness it for the good of ourselves and others.

Influence is not all-powerful, of course. But if we want to be effective advocates for our ideas, it pays to be aware of our ability to influence the outcome of different situations.

Think about times when you want someone to make a big decision in your favor. If the choice isn’t obvious, then what makes that person decide will be based on the influence that you exercised. If it’s a job interview and you were punctual, enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the position, how do you think that will influence the person doing the hiring? If you were none of those things, how do you think that will influence their decision?

If you treat the people who work for you poorly, how do you think that will affect the way they do their work? Likewise, if you make an effort to be open, honest, fair, direct, generous with praise for work well done and constructively criticize when it is not, how do you think that will affect them?

The more aware you become of the influence you have, the quicker you will realize that you influence everyone you come into contact with in some way. And, with the rise of social media, the number of people you come into contact with has grown exponentially, further increasing your chance to influence those who surround you.

Don’t sell yourself – or your creative endeavors – short. Start today by recognizing the potential you have to influence others, and exercising it mindfully.

What Do You Think?

Do our actions have more impact on others than we sometimes realize?

More insights on: Leadership, Office Dynamics

Bernie Michalik

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Bernie is a senior consultant with IBM. He provides leadership to global teams that create complex IT solutions for his clients. In the years of doing this, he has developed innovative ways to be most effective productively as well as creatively. He enjoys sharing that knowledge with a wide range of people, from deep technologists to UX specialists. Though highly mobile, he is based at the IBM Centre for Solution Innovation in Toronto.
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