Learning to Use Power and Influence
How I learned to use Lawrence of Arabia’s “Pillars of Wisdom”
By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL, PCC, SHRM-SCP
There are so many ways we can achieve our goals by learning to leverage power and influence. The issue is recognizing where the power and influence are in your organization. Getting permission to attend a conference in my previous life was one of many ways I learned about power and influence. And it’s interesting that Lawrence of Arabia taught some decisive lessons on capitalizing the use of power and influence to achieve ultimate success.
My education on using power and influence has somewhat of a prosaic beginning. After 10 years of working in my previous career, I was invited to attend a conference for Women In Defense(WID) WID is an organization offering support and education for female professionals in the defense industry. How do women develop and maintain power and influence within this industry, the conference asked? I wanted to join the conversation—but I knew that I’d first have to navigate the internal corporate terrain to get approval for the trip.
This conference would require travel to Washington, D.C. with two overnight stays, totaling about $2000. I knew this request would be challenging in a department that rationed out three-hole punches, so I presented my request several weeks in advance to my supervisor. He promptly ignored it, albeit with a slight chuckle and look of surprise, asking, “What’s Women In Defense”? (Reactions similar to this throughout the defense industry) were part of the reason that WID existed.
After three weeks of waiting, I inquired about the status of my request. I was told that my supervisor needed more information, so I provided a brochure in an attempt at rational persuasion. Another several days passed, and I was told that I should prepare a briefing package for his supervisor. I prepared a detailed package and also mentioned two previous company top leaders who had sponsored me in the past and who supported WID. Several more days went by with no word.
Two days prior to the conference, I finally was granted permission to attend, but registration for the conference had already closed. After shaking off my initial feelings of desperation, I contacted the local WID board members and they approached the conference chair to open registration for me.
After many more inexplicable experiences like this, I began to fully realize how power and influence can be used to achieve goals otherwise seemingly unreachable. Years earlier, another employee observed, “The key to successful leadership in this company is influence, not authority.” I agreed: In my time working at this company, I often found that dealing with the person with influence was the only way to get things done.
In “Influence as Power,” Richard Stiller writes about the impact that influence has within the workplace. Motivated by a personal business crisis, Stiller draws upon the experiences of Lawrence of Arabia, capitalizing on personal knowledge of history to examine how influence and power lead to success in unlikely circumstances. Stiller leverages his fascination with Lawrence’s role in the Arab Revolt of 1916 to develop solutions to a personal work challenge. This strategy ultimately played a major role in saving an important project: a software product eventually renamed Java.
Here are the tenets of Lawrence’s code:
Lawrence developed “Pillars of Wisdom” for each challenging circumstance:
- “You do not need to be in a position of power. You need only be in position to influence those in power.”
- “Find the Prophet. This is the person whom you will influence to make your vision a reality.”
- “Keep your agenda a secret from those whom would undermine it.”
- Share your agenda with those who you trust. This will allow you to drum up support when the time is right.”
- “Focus your vision by giving it a goal. Give your vision a ‘Damascus.’”
- “Do not seek permission to influence those in power.”
- “Seize the opportunities to influence events as they come your way”
These “Pillars of Wisdom” helped me overcome my feelings of isolation and helplessness in a business challenge, for me, attending a conference. Instead of powerlessness, Lawrence’s philosophy teaches us to use power and influence to attain our goals and achieve the success we want; “Pillars of Wisdom” indeed.
Connect with Mary:
Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach (ICF-PCC), Society of Human Resource Management Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP). Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas. Member Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society. Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM. Mary is also an ICF certified Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner.
Mary O’Sullivan has over 30 years experience in the aerospace and defense industry. In each of her roles, she acted as a change agent, moving teams and individuals from status quo to new ways of thinking, through offering solutions focused on changing behaviors and fostering growth. In additional, Mary holds a permanent teaching certificate in the State of New York for secondary education and taught high school English for 10 years in the Syracuse, NY area. Today, Mary dedicates herself to helping good leaders get even better through positive behavior change.