The news is awash with allegations, promises and revelations about Peter Cruddas' claims that wealthy donors could give 'cash for access' to the Prime Minister and other senior Cabinet figures to further the interests of their businesses. It's all very interesting I am sure, and we'll watch as the story develops. However, in the interests of switchingoffthetelevisionsetgoingoutanddoingsomethinglessboringinstead*, I've been pondering how you might gain influence without stumping up £250,000 (allegedly.)
For me, it comes down to three things: visibility, credibility and knowledge.
Everyone's worked with someone who appears once in a while when things are going smoothly and flits about being busy. They tend to arrive with a fanfare, and set about establishing themselves as a person of influence - some all but state "Hey! I'm in charge here now!", and some even claim credit for success that's properly due to those who have been there every day, working away to see a great result. They're never around when things aren't going so well. They disappear.
I call those people Bad Smells. They're invisible, they're about as welcome as a smack round the chops when they do make themselves known, and everyone can't wait until they're gone so they can get on with how they need to get the job done.
The key here is to be visible if you want to have influence. You have to be available, accessible and welcome engagement from your colleagues and clients. True influence depends on being around in good times and bad, and being equally engaged and committed in both.
I used to work with someome with whom conversations would regularly go something like this:
Me: "This is a problem. We need to look at our options to get it sorted."
Her: "Yeah, I know absolutely, definitely what we need to do here. I dealt with a identical situation in my last job ten years ago. Of course, that didn't work out so well, but it might be different here. That was public sector, this is private. I don't suppose the law or anything has changed. I think it's the same everywhere. Yeah. I have an idea of how to do this. I understand how this needs to work. I think. I doubt anyone would actually sue us if we got it wrong, anyway..."
She had zero credibility. Nobody trusted what she had to say, because she was so busy jumping in with an answer in an attempt to influence a course of action that she failed to research, consider or weigh up every situation on its own merits. She just wanted to help, but by not tapping in to resources and building a relationship in trust, she did herself a great disservice.
Being able to shout the loudest is not you being credible- you're just yelling. Passion does not equal volume.
Don't be a bully. Assertiveness is one thing, but imposing your will on others isn't influence: it's a dictatorship.
Here's the biggie. A brilliant understanding of one or two specialist areas will gain you greater influence in your organisation than a broad, sketchy, piecemeal awareness of dozens. Be an expert. If you don't know, state that, and agree to go and find out and report back. Then do it. You don't have to be a human version of Google, but demonstrating what you do know clearly and in ways others can connect to and comprehend easily will win you respect and crank up your influence level.
Influence used wisely and with a light touch is a marvel to behold.
Did this help a bit? It did? Oh no, You're welcome.
That'll be £250k, please.
*One for the '70s kids amongst us, there. Ah, nostalgia... it ain't what it used to be.