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The Art of Influence – The Role of Trust

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)


  1. There is an interesting angle on control vs influence if we relate them to the trinity. In the RAAF my superiors used the control model to get compliance. With my rank the only thing I could give orders to was the hangar cat! Within the trinity, God the Father, still determines events, times and eternal judgement. In essence he controls all destiny. A lot of people only see God as being this type of divine control master supremo. Fortunately, there is another side to God. Jesus is the embodiment of the principles valued in your story. The Holy Spirit is his ‘consultant’ to give us individualised instruction and guidance. A wonderful influence in our lives.

  2. HI Berni, This concept also reminds me of “what you sow you will reap”. not easy to apply but very real for Christianity. the devil is everywhere however with Jesus on our side who conquered evil and death, who better to have in our corner. Berni thank you for who you are to me and others. God Bless

  3. Hi Berni Thanks for this encouraging teaching. As a Christian I believe I have a calling to reflect Gods love and good news to both my work mates in the office and our clients. I am struggling as a fellow Christian in the office has attempted to blast all the non-believers to heaven with a very heavy handed approach, only to put them all offside re things of God.
    Could you spell out in some more detail what one needs to do to gain peoples trust and repect. I would appreciate ideas from your experience and observations.

  4. Well timed! Precious scripture to help in the current work stuggles I face. My work culture is the opposite. I’m a round peg in a square hole. Praying for divine guidance and providence to help me transition out. But I always have that question… Does God want me there to make a difference by being a living example?

    • Hey Rose,

      Short Answer is Yes…, because we’re all disciples of GOD even as of today…
      You look at all the Jesus’s disciples in the bible, not one had not been let into temptation…(even Jesus himself)
      Disciples are always going to have to deal with temptation. There are inherit rewards when you live as a disciple.

      Jesus saved us already, He was on the cross so we may not, BUT and it’s a big BUT, we still need to carry painfully the cross all the way…
      That’s the beauty of believing in GOD…, against all odds, against imaginable pain, with prayer after prayer he’s going to show you his way…

      No one ever said the life of a Christian is going to be easy.

  5. Thanks Berni, I’ve seen it in my professional work as an engineering consultant: some companies want to mould a client to their product, where we’ve tried to mould our solutions to their needs. Never looked at it in terms of “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility” but it makes great sense
    God bless you mate

  6. Berni,

    Mixing Gods’ Kingdom and the world of consultants now that’s brave. But Paul’s inspired Word in Philippians and what you learnt from Graham does that. Excellent encouragement for me to keep going in following Christ’s way.


    • I don’t know Mal … according to Romans 5:20 consulting and the Kingdom of God are a perfect fit!!

      … for where sin increased there grace abounds all the more


  7. Awesome advice,just wish the devil would get off my back long enough to live it 🙁

    • Hey Robin

      thanks for being so realistic in your reply. Let me encourage you to take this Scripture to heart – to believe it and live it (both parts of it because freedom from sin is a double-sided transaction) as though it was written for you. Because it was.

      James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.


  8. one of the best pieces of advice ever! 🙂

  9. love it! my philosophy at work – “I look after my clients and they will look after me” – just got a referral today from client who said ” Sophie says you’ll put forward options that are suited to me, rather than push me into a product that they make the most money from” which fo me is a ringing endorsement of what you have blogged today

    • Steve

      I like that … “look after my clients and they will look after me”. 99% of the time that’s absolutely how it works … and it’s a principle that’s true in all our relationships.

      Bless ya,

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