Right vs. Influential?

Is this some kind of word game or a ridiculous question? Who cares? Wouldn’t right and influential be the same – or close enough?

In my humble experience: “Nope.”  And you should care.

Being right is NOT the same as being influential. Understanding this can make a BIG difference. By the end of this read, you may even agree that this quizzical question can make the difference between becoming the president of the United States — or not.

So, what’s the truth?

Like most things, there isn’t a simple truth, but there definitely are consequences.

This is an issue I come across VERY frequently in the social world of work. (Note, ‘social’). But it isn’t limited to work, it can happen anywhere and anytime an individual takes a stand on a particular issue. We’ve all seen it, and probably done it (and likely didn’t even notice).

Example 1: Ms. Always Right.

Here was a very smart, respected expert and member of the leadership team. The challenge was that she HAD to be right. EVERY TIME. From decisions as important as how to roll out a new IT system that would affect thousands of stakeholders to what color the suggestion box in the cafeteria should be, this individual fought fiercely for her opinion. After all, she was right.

Example 2: Mr. Always Influential.

In stark contrast, another individual absolutely HAD to be influential. EVERY TIME. Whatever people in power wanted (i.e., boss, majority), Mr. Influential would always put acceptance by others ahead of quality in decision making. After all, that’s what people WANT.

As you read this, I’m sure you see the truth lies in the context of the decision. Here’s the issue laid out in a simple framework:

Acceptance vs. Quality

Essentially the correct place to be depends on the impact to decision quality vs. the impact expected from the acceptance of the other(s).

If decision consequences are objective and meaningful, (e.g., “wear your seatbelt”) fight for what’s right, regardless of the social scene or resistance.

If decision consequences don’t make a meaningful difference but do matter to others, (e.g., “should we have coke or pepsi in the break room”) fight for the people, regardless of whether it’s technically imperfect (by a hair).

“No kidding?”, you say. I can assure you that this issue is pervasive, persistent and the source of many an exec’s demise (or rise). There are people who will NOT give an inch in terms of objective decision-making. And, there are those who will NEVER go against what others desire.

Welcome to the clash of “technically right” vs. “popular accommodation”. Knowing which card to play when IS a big deal.

Pure “Rightists” tend to be most disturbing in their own company, i.e., where two (or more) experts debate, ad nauseam, a point that seems trivial to the populous. Most could care less, but it’s a matter of “life or death” (metaphorically speaking) to the experts.

Pure “Influencers” are most nauseating when they drift to and fro in the wind of public opinion absolutely refusing to take a stand until popular interest is certain. Regardless of whether we’re talking about right- vs. left-handed toothbrushes, some will poll others on issues like this so mundane it makes you wonder what, if anything, they stand for.

OK: Stay on the page with me and try to erase the “spot on” examples you’ve already conjured up.

Ms. Right and Mr. Influential at Work in Your World:

Example 1: Think about a specific election you can well remember in which “objectivity” (right) was on the side of one candidate (as if judged by a computer), but “acceptance” (influence) was on the side of the other. Who won?

Example 2: Think about a situation where one expert was right, but faced social ridicule (or even rebellion) while another basked in the light of popular regard. Who, ultimately, was justified as an objective assessment emerged?

Ironically, the place where Ms. Right and Mr. Influential get into the most arguments is in the impact category of low quality/low acceptance. Essentially, they argue fiercely about things that really don’t matter that much.

To be great is to be misunderstood. (R.W. Emerson)

Sometimes Ms. Right is able to go beyond the naysayers and, in fact, become influential. Mr. Influential, on the other hand, loses his initial popularity when Ms. Right gains hers.

Being misunderstood isn’t all that great. (R.C. Steilberg)

But sometimes Ms. Right can’t overcome the popular or powerful. Her argument isn’t compelling enough. In this situation Mr. Influential gains the added power ‘left on the table’ from the obtuse or trivial Ms. Right.

So, next time you’re faced with a decision, ask yourself: Would I rather be right, or be influential?

It makes a difference.

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Published by R. Chris Steilberg, PhD

Endlessly curious about why people do the things they do and the connections and differences among us. For every 'thing' I learn, I realize more that I haven't. I guess I'm on a full-out quest for relative ignorance.

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