One of my fondest memories of my father came when I was five years old. It was the moment I realized Dad valued my opinion and truly cared what I thought.
“Son, do you think I am stupid?”, he said in a harsh voice that seemed to belie his deep need for feedback.
To this day I don’t recall my answer, but answer I did. I think the surprise of the whoopin’ I got makes everything kind of hazy.
It was several years ago that a dear friend of mine, Gary, asked me another important question. We had just met and he was new to the company when he asked, “How will I know when I am successful here?”
It was the best of all possible questions. Clearly Gary was entering that very narrow section at the top of Maslow’s pyramid.
Stumped for just a moment, I clearly remember my thought process. It was a new line of thinking, because I had never fully thought about the question myself.
Business success is all about influence. You can be smart and talented, but ultimately you are going to have to influence others to move any mountains. This is something I learned early on.
Influence can be pushed or pulled. We are all given ample opportunity to push influence. As young employees, we desperately try to get others to listen to our ideas. However, the true sages and wise men of a company, all seem to have people asking them what they think. People are influenced by pulling information from them.
People don’t usually seek out the unsuccessful, unproven talent for their opinion. There was the answer.
It’s really that simple. If they are asking your opinion, chances are they value it. It’s all in the questions.
At first you’ll get questions that are related to your job function, “How does this piece of the software work?” As you gain ground, questions will evolve to questions about the future, still within your area of expertise, “How would you design this?” Still, pretty common in the workplace.
If you are truly influential, people will start asking you questions that aren’t related to your field of expertise. They ask because they believe in your overall judgement, decision making, and insight to the point they feel it can apply to any situation. “Gary, what would you do if you were in my shoes?”
So, are most of your conversations push or pull? Are people asking you questions? If so, what kinds of questions are they asking? When you ask yourself these three questions, you get a simple, handy measuring stick.
By the way, be careful about those questions your father asks – apparently they are meant to be rhetorical.