What is Influence?
How is influence gauged? Beyond traditional measures such as being published in some industry magazine or website, how does one know they are influential? It’s rare that someone will approach you and exclaim, “Hey, you’re an influence on me!” Does it happen by chance? Is it simply a by-product of hard work? Or being in the right place at the right time? I think in most cases, the answer is “no”.
I Want to be Influential
I’m not a narcissist (I don’t think). I’m not looking for recognition.
I remember those times I had someone to turn to when I had hard problems to solve. Someone I could brainstorm with, to be a sounding board. There have been times in my career that I did not have that, and it was in those times that I felt it most. Work took longer to complete; I felt stagnant and unhappy.
Those people that I turned to for help were an influence on me and had an impact on my career. There was a reason I turned to those people when I needed help. In walks with peers, conversations over coffee or beer, and on long runs, I’ve reflected on what that reason is. I want to identify what made those people influential to me.
A Brief Aside
I can’t help but recall an interview with Jerome “The Bus" Bettis where he described struggling to produce yardage when he first started playing professional football. As he improved, he saw new rookies needing some guidance and he took it upon himself to help them, to teach them the hard lessons he hard learned. The idea was that they could advance faster than they would have on their own. But this was well before he was “The Bus”. So what made his teammates pay him any attention? I think I might know.
I think that to be influential, you have to be in peoples' minds. You can’t get there just by asking for it. Or doing something great, one time (everyone has a chance at their 15 minutes). Whatever it is that you do, you must do it consistently. Consistency is the key to people thinking of you when a hard problem comes up they need help solving. Consistency is what makes it automatic for people to turn to you when they’re in need. Consistency builds trust.
So, what sorts of things should you be consistent about? There are all manner of things you can do; you can’t do them all, so pick a few. Maybe it’s writing a regular blog post. It could be contributing to open source projects. Speak to your peers on a given subject. Doing those things aren’t difficult; doing them consistently, over time, is the challenge.
I Want to Give Back
I want to be influential. I want to help others advance faster than I have in my career. I want to support them in what they do so that the state of the art of our work continues to improve. To do that, I have to keep doing what I do, consistently.