Creating Influence through 'Being There': By Asking for Help and Offering It to Others, You Can Advance Not Only Your Career but Also the Careers of Others and the Profile of the Information Profession

Article excerpt

"We all need somebody to lean on ..."

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When Bill Withers wrote these words for his hit song "Lean on Me" (readers too young to have heard it when it was on the charts may enjoy it online), he was onto something: The people we lean on--that is, whose help we seek out and whose opinions we trust--often end up exercising influence, even though influence may not be on their minds.

Achieving a reputation as being someone who carries our profession forward through influence does not require performing spectacular acts or taking heroic measures. All it takes is the determination to "be there" for colleagues, business connections, stakeholders, and so on.

We can each develop such a reputation by constantly asking ourselves two questions: Am I leaning whenever possible on my colleagues to grow as a professional? Am I likewise offering others the opportunity to lean on me?

Social Capital: A Key Element

One key ingredient in developing and exerting influence is social capital. Social capital is variously defined as some combination of credibility, popularity and respect--for example, the credibility you have as an expert, the popularity you enjoy as a successful relationship manager, and the respect others have for your opinions, expertise, and contribution. People with social capital "matter"--not through rank or title but through the earned admiration of others. Thus, a person in an entry-level position may be an influencer because he or she has garnered a reputation as an expert, spearheaded a popular and successful initiative that was not necessarily in his or her portfolio, or shown in some other way the ability and willingness to make something positive happen. Having social capital means others will go out of their way to support you and will forgive minor flaws if necessary.

On a personal note, I believe I built social capital in my early years when, during my business travels, I volunteered to speak to local professional groups and when, year in and year out, I assisted students and colleagues with preparing their resumes. I hope I'm still building it when I hold various roles in SLA and when I engage with individuals who approach me for collegial input. From that bank account of contributions, I have developed (so I'm told) a reputation as someone who can be counted on to help.

I use my social capital to connect people who may benefit from finding each other, to ask for help when I need it, and, in general, to navigate within the profession with a view to assisting our future influencers. And what have I discovered? Social capital appears to be inexhaustible and self-renewing. What a deal!

What is Influence?

How do information professionals who are considered influential define their influence? Following are some examples of how influence plays out, according to those who have led influential careers.

First, influencers look beyond the status quo and, notably, have a better proposal up their sleeves. For instance, they reach out to IT personnel and work hard with them to deploy the latest and most powerful desktop tools for the benefit of clients. They are always on the prowl for new or better ways to enable their clients to help themselves where appropriate (this includes making sure clients know the "value tricks" of the new tools).

Influencers also look for ways to contribute their skills and experience throughout their careers, in any and all ways that may be opportune. Exercising influence can be as unobtrusive as developing a reputation as a go-to expert or quietly nurturing relationships, or it can be as noticeable as campaigning intensely for an initiative or getting others excited about a vision. Authoring blogs, offering to speak and teach at local events, and writing book reviews for the local chapter bulletin are all examples of quiet but effective ways to exert influence. …