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A simple matter of influence

IN THIS AGE of social media and virtual meetings, how many times do we hear the appellation of “influencer”? Was there even such a word before blogs and followers became faddish? From the old-fashioned celebrity endorser, we now encounter advice-givers who influence decision-making for individuals or herds. The recent stock market assaults in the US involved influencers going wild with their herd instructions that made certain stocks shoot up or crash down.

Influencers are often subjective and may themselves be influenced to promote certain opinions. Moving together, mercenary influencers are referred to as trolls. And they can be a collective, or a “troll farm,” under the employ of subjects with their own agenda. In the coming political exercise, these opinion farms will mushroom and clash with one another.

Giving advice can be quite private (and not necessarily socially distanced), especially when the one soliciting it is a high-profile personality.

A leader, whether political or corporate, tries to project an image of control. (I alone make the important decisions.) He does not want to look like a puppet whose strings are being pulled by advisers, especially those who don’t bother to hide their influence peddling. This Greek Chorus (sometimes masked) does not leave the stage and manages to steal the scene, especially in a tragedy.

When always seen at a leader’s side, advisers display their clout publicly. They may lean close to the boss before a speech, and whisper — there’s a broccoli bit stuck in your front teeth. (And he isn’t even the ghost-writer.) Such public posturing can be irritating for the chief who wants the spotlight to be only on him.

Leaders put arrogant advisers off-balance by exiling them to the doghouse. They are excluded from certain meetings — I needed to talk with other people about you. They are publicly ridiculed (is he wearing his tight shirt again?) just to make the point that they are dispensable.

Advisers need to move in the orbit of the planet they are influencing. It is important for them to observe some rules. Advisers too need to be advised on how to behave.

When asked for an opinion, take some time to reply. Showing some hesitation denotes respect — I want to provide a considered opinion. It’s good to repeat the question, to ensure that the right issue is being addressed.

If there is already a group around the leader (especially in a virtual meeting), it is best to avoid shallow remarks — yes, that problem keeps coming back like a stray cat.

In a one-on-one situation, waiting for an idea to poach (or summarize) is not possible. It is best to give parables and platitudes (yes, three is better than two) and probe to check what the boss is looking for.

There is seldom a need to give a straightforward answer to a question posed, unless it is only to provide a home address. (Is he sending you a gift?)

Never be limited to just one course of action like sacking somebody, even if the person is at the top of a hate list. Presenting a menu allows more flexibility (Maybe, send him on a study leave for an online course?) It is advisable to present an analysis of the situation and the implications of certain options — true, he seems to be indispensable with his ongoing project. But, is he still with the home team? Using sports metaphors allows some room for error — it was a bad call.

In case of a controversial suggestion the leader is sure to be upset about, like accusing his relative of some wrongdoing (he steals rolls and rolls of toilet paper), it is best to present the infraction as a news item, somebody else’s suggestion, or something overheard in the executive lounge — they say his pockets are always bulging, even when there is no object of desire.

Never put advice on e-mail or a phone message. This is sure to be forwarded to the object of scorn with a little twist of the knife — what do you think of this accusation? Also, e-mails can’t really be deleted. They reside in the ether and can be fished out by cyber-detectives to nail you later. It’s part of “forensic accounting.”

Is giving advice a simple matter of influence? Not always. Changes in leadership and even moods can upset the value of advice… and the one giving it.


Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda

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