It's easy--too easy--to look at an organizational chart and assume we know where the power resides in any given company. It's at the top, we say, with a snort that signals obviously. Although it's true that position does confer power, there are other ways of shaping and moving a business that have very little to do with titles.
Entrepreneurs, the formal power rests with you--but do you know who the little-i influencers are in your company? Figure it out because they'll only help you be better.
The mentors. They may not have a formal mentoring arrangement with other employees in your organization, but others naturally gravitate toward these influencers to share their problems, ask for guidance, and generally unload. They're the good eggs, instinctively trusted and deserving of that trust, able to offer a listening ear and sound advice.
Turn to them for: A quick pulse-check on employee perspectives. Don't expect them to relay detail that would betray a confidence but they can give you a high-level read on what employees are thinking and feeling.
The high potentials. New in the field, relatively inexperienced, but definitely future rock stars, your high-potential employees exhibit the kind of charisma, savvy and drive that makes even a veteran leader look twice.
Turn to them for: An injection of enthusiasm and a worldview that's still unsullied by hearing over and over why something can't be done. Plus, these individuals are usually part of your "must-retain" employee population so it wouldn't hurt to spend some one-on-one time to emphasize their value to you and the organization.
The been-there, done-that person. You need the voice of experience--preferably more than one so you can reap the benefit of diversity in experience, background and personality. What do they all share? A certain realism--let's not call it being jaded or cynical per se--about the feasibility of various company pursuits, from a product's go-to-market strategy to addressing a critical customer crisis.
Turn to them for: A dose of the real world, backed up by numerous examples they've personally witnessed for added emphasis. This is helpful if you're contemplating a significant pivot, a direction that might be controversial internally or externally, or if you just want to make sure you've thought of every possible angle.
The glue. Every company has at least one, potentially more, of the human equivalent of glue. In some cases, it might be the office manager, who always seems to have a superhuman sixth sense for what's needed--no matter how small--to keep the trains running. Your engineers don't function without an unending supply of Red Bull and protein shakes? Not a problem--the kitchen is always stocked and this person has an emergency stash squirreled away as a just-in-case. Maybe it's the receptionist who gauges the mood of the clients waiting in the foyer and texts you the intel.
Turn to them for: Help, even if it's the most random request. But make sure you say thank you and, if it's the person who consistently is your go-to for everything, step up your game. A nice restaurant gift certificate, a bonus for going above and beyond, an extra day off--a thoughtful gesture goes a long way with an employee who brings it every day.
Who have you turned to as a little-i influencer in your career?