For ten years, I was a top leader in business. I managed large teams, did performance reviews, and set strategy. I had the final say on many of the hire-fire decisions and ran the overall budget. There were times when I would even fly down to Disney World for leadership conferences.
It wasn’t a great fit, although you can’t beat the (fake) sandy beaches in Orlando.
For the last 15 years, I’ve had a much different role. I meet with the leaders who do the performance reviews. I hang out with them at coffee shops, write articles about them--some are even my friends. In this new role, I’m much happier. And, you can join me. You just have to give up on the idea of being the “top dog” and settle for being the adviser to the top dog.
That’s right, I’m talking about being an Influencer. I have that word capitalized to make it seem more important, because it is. An Influencer often determines the outcome of a business activity, a new project, or even the entire direction of the company because it is a role of analysis. You get to watch what is happening from a safe distance. There isn’t as much ego (or conflict) involved. You get to be the one who makes “suggestions” that lead to real change.
It’s important to understand that you are in good company in a role like this. Eric Schmidt, the Chairman at Google, is an Influencer. (He also writes some pretty good books.) So is investment guru Marc Andreessen. The New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell may not be directly in charge of anything, but he has influenced an entire generation of business leaders.
The problem, of course, is that it isn’t easy to become an Influencer. In many ways, it’s a role you take on only after serving in leadership for a long period of time. Both Schmidt and Andreessen were once the CEOs of large and famous companies. (Gladwell is just really smart.) An Influencer has a specific skillset. You have to be able to analyze and suggest action. You have to come up with good ideas. You have to know how to build trust. You have to be confident.
Yet, the most important trait of any Influencer is a burning desire to steer the outcome without being directly involved. It’s a gift. It's a calling. An Influencer doesn’t crave the limelight. This is not the person who will stand in front of hundreds of people at a conference. It’s someone who, instead, might advise the speaker at a conference right before he or she goes on stage.
An Influencer usually has a great interest in mentoring as well. It’s possible the best Influencers are introverts, because this is the type of person who is more interested in meeting with one person and communicating at a deep level than ever meeting in a larger group. Most of the skills of an Influencer are geared to small group meetings and one-on-one interactions. An Influencer is not the life of the party, someone who will jump up on stage and do Karaoke. It's not the role for an extrovert.
What if you decided to become an Influencer? You should know there are risks. Being the one who suggests the right course of action can be a dangerous role. You might get blamed for failure. That be the one time you get attention. It’s also a role where you won’t ever get any credit. No one will know you came up with the best ideas. In business, the leader is the one who has to deal with conflict and pressure, who has to create a clear vision, who is responsible for making sure employees have the right skills. It’s not an easy job. Yet, you have to clearly distinguish between this role of captain of the ship to the one holding the rudder. Are you ready for that?
As always, I’m interested in helping with the transition. Maybe you have lost the desire to be the direct leader over a department or even an entire company. Maybe you want to start blogging instead or write a book. Maybe you are about to retire and you want to start mentoring others. It’s a high calling, one that is incredibly rewarding. Contact me for guidance. And, Influence.