Most books I’ve read in the field of leadership seem directed at leaders and those aspiring to powerful leadership positions. And while leaders and aspiring leaders will gain valuable insight from Influencing Powerful People, readers standing to gain most from this text will be those who find themselves working with, or better put, working under powerful personalities. And that, I suspect, involves most of us in the work-a-day world.
Dirk Schlimm, a corporate director, executive business coach, and lecturer in a major University Business School, is well qualified to write this book having worked fifteen years in a corporation led by a larger-than-life personality. Reflecting on the challenges of working for a powerful individual, Schlimm says:
“I learned that influencing powerful people was a better and more effective route than complaining about them”
Combining his corporate experience with diligent study of powerful individuals, both historical and contemporary, Schlimm discovers common themes supporting his sixteen rules for influencing powerful personalities. He devotes a chapter to each rule.
Rule 1: Get Ready for a Potent Mix of Brilliance and Drive
Rule 2: Know How to Manage the Supremely Confident
Rule 3: Master the Art of First Impressions
Rule 4: Know What You Are Doing
Rule 5: Save Energy for When It Counts
Rule 6: Practice Humility
Rule 7: Show Appreciation
Rule 8: Sidestep Power with Diplomacy
Rule 9: Guard Your Independence
Rule 10: Get Results
Rule 11: Cover Their Weakness
Rule 12: Facilitate the Impact of Raw Power
Rule 13: Advise Those Who Like to Act
Rule 14: Know When (and Whether) to Put on the Brakes – If You Can
Rule 15: Coach with Caution
Rule 16: Use Your Own Power Well
In Rules 1 and 2, Schlimm explores some general attributes of powerful people – their unique personalities and their perceptions of the less powerful around them.
The focus of Rules 3 through 9 is on building a working relationship with powerful people. Schlimm points out the critical importance in having this relationship when the time comes to manage the daily grind of corporate life, including the inevitable crises that arise.
Rules 10 through 15 are devoted to specific duties and responsibilities you may undertake for and with these powerful individuals. Schlimm reminds readers that as their relationships and influencing skills develop, they may find themselves doing far more than what is set out in their job description. Because powerful people may, at times, need to be protected from themselves, Schlimm notes that one may be called upon to be a facilitator, counselor, or even a counterweight.
Learning how to influence powerful people means that the influencer will gradually garner a certain level of personal power, and in Rule 16 Schlimm discusses legitimate ways to exercise that acquired power.
The book concludes with what may be one of the most important aspects of Schlimm’s wise counsel: “Powerful People Need People Who Don’t Need Them.” He explains as follows:
“Powerful leaders have no shortage of people who need the job, need the money, need the trappings, and need the glory. These needs can help those in power push people harder to accomplish remarkable feats and achieve great things. But these needs can also lead those in power to push so hard that people become less effective and less productive. Therefore, for their sake and yours, what powerful people need most of all are people who do not need them. I strongly believe that if you are that kind of person, you will meet a real need, do a better job, and get further ahead.”
In Schlimm’s experience, he has discovered three over-arching conclusions about working effectively with powerful people:
- Concentrate on building a strong relationship
- Be willing and able to adapt
- Maintain your independence – be yourself
The book is laid out in an attractive, reader-friendly manner. Placed under the title of each chapter is an arresting quote from a significant leader – quotes that hint at the discussion to come, and designed to get the reader thinking. Strategically placed call-outs draw attention to salient points being made on the page. Every chapter concludes with a “What to do when” example, providing a pertinent example of how the advice given works in real life.