Dr. Tim Irwin



Being a Person of Disproportionate Influence - Trust


Several years ago my wife accompanied me to France when I spoke to a group of leaders who represented various organizations from around Europe. Anne had always wanted to visit Portugal, and since the cost of the additional stopover was minimal, it sounded fine to me. Our travel agent booked us into a beautiful hotel on the Lisbon coast. When the hotel confirmation arrived a few days before our departure, I went into shock when I realized how much those several nights in an ocean view room were going to cost.

Anne anticipated my reaction and assured me that we were going to save money because she had packed an old suitcase with enough food for the three-day stay. The dry cereal with non-refrigerated milk, nuts and canned tuna fish on saltines were dreadful, particularly in light of the fabulous hotel dining room overlooking the blue Atlantic we passed by each day. The tables laden with food, flowers and ice swans reminded me of a lavish movie set and made our suitcase meals all the worse.

The night before our departure I went to the hotel's front desk to look over our bill, and as I turned to leave, the clerk asked if I had made our breakfast reservation for the following morning. When I expressed my confusion, she explained to me that all our breakfasts and dinners were included in the price of the hotel! The implications of her words choked me like the dry bran flakes and warm milk I had for breakfast that morning. For three days, we ate some of the most marginal food imaginable out of an old suitcase when we could have enjoyed our already paid for gourmet meals in the beautiful hotel dining room!

Our experience captures the plight of many organizations that perpetually eat out of the suitcase of mediocre performance, when, in reality, an abundance of commitment, productivity and exceptional results lay unused in the hearts and minds of their employees.

Often leaders simply do not inspire the members of their organization or team to use their full capabilities and willingness to care deeply about customers and the overall success of the organization. How does a leader influence members of their organization to be emotionally invested in this way?

I often ask groups, "How many of you want to be a person of disproportionate influence?" I generally get a 90 to 100% "yes" answer to that question. We would likely answer "yes" as well. Being a person of disproportionate influence is the essence of leadership. Even when we do not have a formal leadership title, we can still seek to create a significant and lasting impact on others.

The essence of having disproportionate influence is to foster an individual's inherent desire and readiness to bring passion and capability to any endeavor. While there are a number of important elements to influencing this exceptional performance, at the epicenter is trust, the first principle of disproportionate influence.

How do we inspire trust-let me suggest three ways.

First, we must keep our commitments-do what we say we're going to do. While simple in one sense, it is quite profound in another. Our credibility, a basis for trust, emanates from this very important axiom. For example, returning calls and emails promptly, meeting deadlines, and following through on what we said we would do create trust. We know individuals who don't keep their commitments, and the resulting loss of trust usually diminishes their influence on us. When a boss who we deem untrustworthy asks us to do something, we may comply, but we often do not bring our full commitment to the task.

Second, we must make our thinking visible. Most work is accomplished on the basis of influence, not power or position. If we want to influence someone, we must make it clear what we trying to do, why, how and when. This type of transparent communication raises trust in others, particularly in the turbulence that most organizations are experiencing today.

Third, we must run by the same rules we expect others to observe. One CEO I know always flies first class, but insists all the members of his organization fly coach. While it is his prerogative, it just does not set well with others. His working by a different set of rules fosters distrust on even more important issues in the company. His credibility is compromised.

I firmly believe nobody intends to be mediocre-most want to be great. I've never met anyone who got out of bed in the morning and said, "I wonder how I can be really average today?" Being a person of disproportionate influence fundamentally means that we encourage the best in others-we urge them toward the greatness that often lies untapped in each of us.

How do we get started? We begin by looking for ways to increase our trustworthiness and credibility among those we wish to influence. I will talk about other crucial ways to become a person of disproportionate in future newsletters, but this vital principle is the cornerstone. We can lay the cornerstone today.

Tim Irwin, Ph.D., is the author of "Derailed: 5 Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures in Leadership," a sought after speaker, and leading authority on leadership development, organizational effectiveness, and executive selection. For more than twenty years, he has consulted with many of America's most well-respected organizations and top Fortune 100 companies. He has also served in a senior management post for a US-based company with more than three hundred offices worldwide. Presently, he is managing partner of IrwinInc.


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