The Art of Influence – The Role of Trust
One of the rudest shocks I’ve ever experienced in my life is the transition from life in the military, back to “civvy street”. Things were pretty simply in the Army – everybody had a rank, you knew where you stood and that was it. By and large the system worked pretty well although it was a culture we took for granted.
Then I left the military and became a “consultant” – working in organisations where not only did these “civvies” just not get it, but as an advisor I had no executive authority. I couldn’t decide to do things and then just tell people to do them. I could only advise, cajole, guide … it was like herding cats.
It was in that place that the difference between influence and control hit me in the face like a wet fish.
At first I hated it – but it wasn’t long and I began to realise that right from the beginning – even in the wonderfully structured and organised world of the military – leadership had always been much more about influence than control.
Now consultants often get a bad reputation, because the perception is that they’re more into feathering their own nest by making themselves indispensable, than looking after the interests of their clients. (That’s not an unreasonable observation by the way!)
But that’s where my mentor of 20 years, Graham Pratt – the Managing Director of our consulting firm – taught me the single most important lesson about influence.
It’s a lesson that I still get to apply every day in my life, decades on … and here it is:
When people are able to trust us – because we genuinely put their interests first – man, it is just amazing how influential we become.
Graham established a culture in our company that demanded that we always, irrespective of the circumstance, acted first and foremost in the interests of our clients. Pretty gutsy move now that I look back on it. I can remember on more than one occasion, that principle costing us tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars in ongoing work.
We’d often sit around the meeting table in the office, chatting about giving a client some piece of difficult advice – and time and time again, as we’d debate the relative merits of good advice to the client, versus the potential negative impact on our own organisation’s revenues and how we might mitigate that – Graham would bring us back to that principle that drove all that we did.
The client comes first, second and third … and everything else comes next.
As time went by, our consulting firm developed an enviable reputation for always providing the hard advice in the best interests of our clients.
And the end result of that – was that our firm grew from a small back room outfit, to a substantial practice that worked internationally for some of the largest companies on the planet.
What was going on here?
We developed great influence in our client organisations, because they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they could trust us to act in their best interests no matter what.
Did we always get it right? No, of course not! But we always gave advice – without fear or favour – that was in the best interests of the client.
Graham is long retired now. But this piece of wisdom of his is a “gem” that has blessed me over and over again. It was the key if you will that opened my understanding of what influence is all about. Of course … there’s nothing new in any of this. It just took me a while to figure out:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8)