Must we all strive to be influencers?

A colleague on a professional list recommended this article: (Dan Schawbel, “Mandatory skills you need to compete in this economy,” Forbes, June 14, 2011). It’s a short article, so I will quote only two sentences from the third mandatory skill, Online Influence: “Your online influence is how many, and who, you can influence to make decisions. . . . Companies understand that those with larger networks are more productive and can generate new business, recruit top talent and market their brand.”

The subjects of influence and branding have come up a few times this week, in very different contexts. First, I heard a segment on Marketplace Money (APM/NPR) in which the interviewee, for humor, mentioned a Q&A in which a college student asked about how to proceed in order to “fulfill her brand promise.” Her professor stood up and suggested that she might first concentrate on getting a job. The same week, I received notice of a conference in Sarajevo called “Il’ si brand ili nisi” (loosely translated, “Are you a brand or aren’t you?”). Now, in this case, the conference was not about personal image and influence, but about company recognition and market share.

Then just yesterday, in a discussion with my mother and a family friend, the friend told my mother that he thought of her as a role model and very influential because she has always been a good listener and usually refrains from commenting and passing judgment. He said that her restraint made her opinions that much more noteworthy and her advice that much more weighty. By going about her work in a professional manner and not opining on every issue, she has created an aura of integrity, which she maintains to this day, well into her 80s. Whether by temperament, habit, or design, she tends to listen first and, if she speaks at all, speak last. This is not because she doesn’t have an opinion or cannot articulate her thoughts (because she does and can, believe me!). But she does not feel the need to burble and babble and think out loud; her thoughts come out insightful, succinct, and fully formed. And people listen. She can sway opinions. People want her on their side.

I read in articles like the one in Forbes mentioned above that it is important for one’s career to accumulate a large network and develop a media strategy that involves regular blog posts and tweets and comments; one must create a personal brand; one should aspire to become an online influencer. At the same time, I see people I know going about their business, producing quality work (in whatever field they’re in), and making contributions to their communities. When something is important to them, they express an opinion and try to recruit others to their point-of-view.

I’d rather be influenced by the latter than be an influencer in the image of the former.

The latter do not measure their professional success in terms of their ability to influence others; rather, their ability to influence others is directly related to their integrity and professional success.

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