Tag Archives: Malcolm Gladwell

Influence Without Expertise

An outstanding source of influence is a reputation for and track record of success as an expert in a given arena.  A wealth of credibility is earned when an individual is crowned by a community as the “go-to” person for information and results relative to a certain topic, process, or task. Leaders intent on making positive contributions in organizations and/or communities use the credibility and respect bestowed upon them for their specialization to motivate others to join them in the achievement of positive goals.

But what if you are a jack of all trades and master of none?

Here are three strategies a leader without a dominion over a niche can use to enhance personal influence.

Enlist the Help of Experts

In the absence of excellence in a particular subject your best move is to seek the help of those who know more than you do. If you choose this strategy beware of the self-proclaimed pro. The self aggrandizing expert is often not the top in her field. The best of the best are usually too busy applying their knowledge and skills toward the resolution of issues or advancement of opportunities to waste time broadcasting their greatness from every hill and soap box. Trying to align with the self-promoters in an attempt to ride their coat tails will not likely result in an improvement in personal influence levels. The outcome is typically a reputation as a sycophant. If your objectives are sound and you demonstrate a healthy amount of humility, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get the experts on board. Once they are engaged, give them plenty of space to perform that voodoo they do so well. In these circumstances, your role is to remove the obstacles that could stand in the way of their success. You’ll be amazed at how much gets accomplished.

The way you earn credibility and build up your influence with this strategy is to check your ego at the door and give the connoisseurs credit. Shine the spotlight on their accomplishments (especially if they are too modest to bring attention to themselves). In exchange for your selfless subjugation of ego, the experts will grant you open access to their treasure troves of information and capabilities. You’ll find that it is much easier to motivate people to follow you when they know you’re the person with access to valuable resources.

Be a Catalyst

A closely related strategy to enlisting the help of experts is to be the catalyst gathering together talented specialists. In order for this approach to succeed, you have to be able to cast a compelling vision for what could be produced through the collaborative efforts of these experts. You’ll have to carefully tailor your messaging to speak directly to the values and priorities of each pro you want to recruit. If you can’t find the link between your vision and an individual’s personal or business drivers, chances are there’s not a fit worth exploring. When actively building trusting respectful relationships with “the masters,” it’s best not to play a losing hand.

Once the right players are at the table, your job is to facilitate a process that taps into each of their specialties. Foster a collaborative environment closely focused on clearly defined objectives.

Malcom Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, speaks of the power of connectors. These are people with a gift for linking otherwise unconnected groups of people. Influence is the reward for this charismatic ability. Ron Burt, University of Chicago Booth School of Business Hobart W. Williams Professor of Sociology and Strategy,explains that this is a do it yourself proposition. You don’t become influential simply by connecting with the connectors. You must play the leading role. Influence is not awarded for playing best supporting actor.

Become The Expert

Of course, there is the option of increasing your level of influence and power by earning the distinction as an expert relative to a topic, process, or task. For the jack of all trades who has spent years circling high above the terrain, this means it’s time to land the plane. Plant a stake in the ground. Spend the time, energy, and money required to learn more than the average bear about something. If you choose this path, keep in mind a key factor almost all experts share—a passion for their subject. Spending your life in pursuit of excellence is far more fulfilling if you actually love what you’re doing and care immensely about the kingdom over which you’re striving to rule. Do not be confused about the order of operations. Influence is a by-product of expertise not the reason for it.

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Ask Not What Your Network Can Do For You

lukeShortly before the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace—the first in a second trilogy of Star Wars movies, my husband and a friend began collecting action figures produced during the era of the original Star Wars trilogy. This strategic investment in toys accumulated in a closet. When the kids entered the picture, he relocated the collection to higher ground. In order to protect his investment from curious little fingers that would damage the otherwise pristine packaging in a desperate attempt to reach the toy, he stashed the lot in the attic. The children are well aware of the collection. However, they’ve yet to figure out how to get into the attic. Every so often, in a fit of boredom, they’ll ask to see the toys. They’ve learned that touching them is out of the question! But perhaps a glimpse, just once, would be bestowed upon them. To date, not even on a rainy day, have they been granted access; for there is hope that someday, through the magic of eBay, the collection will be magically transformed into college tuition.

Over the years, I’ve met people who have an extensive network of contacts that they hoard like the toys in my attic. Others will reach out to these individuals hoping to access needed resources. They are turned away because the network “owner” is fearful of potentially damaging his collection of valuable relationships. It is a scarcity mentality. There is a misguided belief that if one taps into his or her network too frequently or at the wrong time, then all the “favors” will be used up just when they are needed most. Many a personal and professional network, rich in character and depth, lays dormant waiting for the right moment to be cashed in. The greatest flaw in this logic is the notion that we network and build relationships in order to accumulate a reservoir of resources and favors.

Although reciprocity is a vital channel through which social capital is exchanged, it should not be the purpose of networking but rather a by-product of time spent gaining and granting trust.

One of the most rewarding experiences is making valuable connections between people who have only you, the network “owner” in common. Ron Burt, University of Chicago Booth School of Business Hobart W. Williams Professor of Sociology and Strategy, describes the activity of connecting people within separate network clusters as filling “structural holes.” Positioning yourself as a hub in a diverse social network allows you to provide your contacts with tremendous value. Because people tend to move in predominantly homogenous circles (in terms of demographics, attitudes, geography, and common interests), individuals or groups who would profit from interacting are never given the chance. The person who can bridge the gap between these individuals or groups does everyone involved a great service. Malcolm Gladwell calls those in a hub role “Connectors.” In his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, he states, “The point about Connectors is that by having a foot in so many worlds, they have the effect of bringing them all together.”

Start by drawing out your network as a hub-and-spoke mind map. Visually laying out the various groups that make upNetwork Hub your array of contacts helps you to see the structural holes. Once the gaps are identified, you can then set about introducing people and groups who could benefit from the connection. Bridging structural holes is a win-win-win scenario. The people you connect win because they have access to resources and ideas they could not necessarily obtain on their own. Professor Burt and others have shown that companies with people who bridge structural holes win because these organizations are better able to implement new ideas and new technologies, and are more innovative. The third win goes to the person making the connections. As you generously and appropriately engage your network to help others, you receive in return stock piles of the ingredients for influence. Effectively matching up individuals and groups boosts your credibility, demonstrates that you have the right intentions, and strengthens the trust bonds between you and the parties involved. In addition, Professor Burt has found that the number of structural holes a person bridges relates to career success, including promotions and salary, and provides a greater return on education and experience.

So, in homage to the late great JFK, when considering how to handle the relationships in which you’ve invested so much time…

Ask not what your network can do for you–ask what you can do for your network.

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