Becoming a Master of Influence

By Robert E. Quinn

I was invited to meet with a group of young professionals in medicine to discuss the topic of becoming a change agent. I started with two questions. First, I asked them each to define the term. “A leader,” they responded. “Someone who can stimulate people to feel, think, see and do things in a new way.”

Next, I asked them to differentiate between a novice, an expert, and a master. This was difficult, but one person finally gave an answer I found striking. He said a novice is someone who is just learning. An expert is a person who learns to effectively lead his or her own organization or group. A master is a person who takes the principles of leadership and generalizes them in such a way that that can effectively lead any organization or group.

Two people came to mind. The first was Gandhi and the second was a public school teacher.

Many times I have watched the Ben Kingsley movie about Ghandi’s life. Watch closely and you can see Ghandi develop into a person who generalizes the principles of influence. He is able to enter nearly any situation and transform how people, feel, think, see and do.

The teacher was someone I had met personally, a woman who struggled to get her credentials and who took years to learn how to excel, eventually becoming highly effective in the classroom. In school, she had told me, you learn the “rules” of teaching. Then you go to your first class and you learn that every child is different, that each one has a unique set of needs that you have to learn how to work with.

“Then,” she said, surprising me, “you go to the next level.” Fascinated, I asked her what that was. She said that she eventually learned that every child was the same. No matter what a child says or does, every child wants to be respected, every child wants to succeed, and so on. They all have the same set of intrinsic needs. She told me that once you discover that they are all the same, you can then teach any group, old or young, gifted or special education.

She was describing the generalization of influence. She was describing how she became a master change agent.

Question: How could you become a master of influence?