Influence might just be the key to moving up in an organization. Someone that has influence over others generally is able to impress others, maybe even totally different kinds of people. Therefore, if they play their cards right, they might be well liked and respected, and they might be friends with the right people. The old adage, “its about who you know, not what you know” absolutely applies here.
According to The Geek Leader’s Handbook, influence essentially comes in two different forms, objective and subjective. Objective influence comes in the form of presenting facts. Geeks are very good at this, and this is how they are influenced. Dwight and Jim from The Office understand this when they are pitching Dunder Mifflin to a potential client. They pitch that they have better customer service, even though they can’t match the prices of the big box stores. They physically show the client how they do that by calling a big box store and calling Dunder Mifflin (start with 2:05 left):
Influence can also be objective, meaning that it plays on people’s emotions. For some, that means becoming friends with the boss. This is a really tough one. On one hand, it never hurts to have the in with the boss, but at the same time, you definitely don’t want to get to the point where you’re being too intentional and annoying the boss, as that will have the opposite effect. When the Stamford and Scranton branches of Dunder Mifflin merge and Jim becomes the number 2 in the company behind Michael, Dwight and Andy have a fierce battle to become the number 3 in the office. Dwight has already established himself, but Andy, new to Scranton feels that he needs to be Michael’s best friend to achieve his goals. Here’s a quick snippet of that:
Andy tries to become friends with Michael to influence him to promote him to number 3 in the office by inviting him to do things, putting down Dwight, and even offering to do his laundry whenever he needs it. Soon, it backfires. Although Michael is definitely an emotional person, and subjective influence generally works on him, Andy takes it to such a level that even Michael Scott sees right past it. His BS meter kicked in.
Once someone moves up in an organization, they generally get some sort of power. The interesting thing about power is that you don’t always have to be the CEO to have power. Sometimes, the janitor even perceives that they have power, regardless of whether they do or not. Power can quickly go to someone’s head. One example that I can relate to is the power that campus safety seems to think that they have at Greenville College. Here is a description of their power when it comes to parking tickets. Parking tickets are the bane of the existence of most college students. They seem to serve little purpose other than funding the college, and to the eyes of most Greenville College students, all campus safety does is write them (I’m sure they do other things, but the only thing I ever see them doing is unlocking buildings and handing out parking tickets). Two experiences to share here: 1) When I was a freshman, I parked in the freshman lot when there was snow on the ground. I parked next to another car, as I couldn’t see the lines because of the snow. The next day, I walked out to my truck, and I found a parking ticket for parking outside the lines that I couldn’t see. That was a bit aggravating, but what really frustrated me was that I got a second parking ticket, written FORTY MINUTES after the first one was written. They expected me to pay twice the amount because of that 40 minutes. A second experience: someone was parked outside the union in the 30 minute parking lot. They are a commuter student, and when they came to class, they always parked in the public parking lot west of campus, so they didn’t have a parking pass. They parked outside the union for 5 minutes or so, when campus safety came over and gave them a parking ticket. When they went out to investigate what was happening, the campus safety worker told them that they had been specifically looking for her car to ticket her, and that people without stickers couldn’t park in the 30 minute parking (which is untrue, not in their handbook), and that she would have to verbally appeal the ticket in his office, and he promised to rescind it. If that is not power going to your head, I don’t know what is.
I think that people with power would best be served to develop empathy. I think that most problems involving those who have power and those who don’t can be solved by stepping in each others’ shoes and trying to understand the problem. As people influence others on their way to receiving power, I think that it would help to remember to take a step back and develop empathy to better understand others.