Exerting Influence

Throughout the years I have noted with varying degrees of curiosity, and sometimes bewilderment, that most organizations have a group of people known as insiders who seem to exert more influence than others. They exist in all walks of life. I was one myself at different times.

Most of us have been. In the business world, insiders generally achieve this tenuous status due to their positions and political adroitness. They transition rapidly through the corporate maze and can lose influential connections in a New York second.

Being a corporate insider is a shaky proposition at best. Those who hold sway generally do so because they have functional clout or attach themselves to people who do. When one is toppled, a domino effect usually takes place. Insiders also exist in this town of Conway, NH, whether perceived or otherwise.Last year, two business people went before the selectmen to discuss the matter of an inappropriate sign on their farm property. They were scowled at by one selectman and treated to a temper tantrum from another.

They left in disgust; they clearly were not influential. During subsequent board meetings, I noted that others, particularly ones on other boards, were treated with a tad more deference and respect, something one of my neighbors did not get when he recently went in to discuss and respond to questions about the possibility of converting his trailer to something else and this inspired me to do a little digging.In the valley, there are people who graciously volunteer to serve on any number of boards. I serve on one as well. These people have influence by virtue of their community service and manifestly deserve our collective gratitude. Conway is known as a giving town and these people contribute mightily to that reputation.

Municipal board members and appointed officials often are on the same nonprofit boards. As membership on different boards increases, the possibility of dealing with some of the same people increases as well. As familiar faces work together, they quickly realize they may have leverage to make certain things happen. Sometimes this realization and these interactions can evolve to a focused effort to accomplish a particular project. Worthy projects can begin this way; for example, the one to replace A defunct service station with a small park.

An example of interactive influence occurred last year when The Mount Washington Valley Economic Council and the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce jointly endorsed the new High School bond proposal. The fact that some of the same members, albeit advisory in nature, were on each other's boards probably accelerated an effort that had already gained a pretty fair head of steam. It is precisely through this process of interaction that leverage becomes apparent and potentially useful.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with using leverage. If applied openly, judiciously and circumspectly, it can increase influence considerably. Those who exert it can and have accomplished much good here.There are, of course, different kinds of influence. Some have perceived influence and receive deference simply by virtue of their last names or by virtue of their wealth. I have never come to grips with this one because I believe, rightly or wrongly, that a person should be judged by behavior rather than by name or wealth.

I attended school with such people and the amount of respect they got from me was in proportion to the amount they gave me. If I had to earn their respect, they had to earn mine. I did note, however, that those with a somewhat bluish tint to their blood tended to stay to themselves and maintained a low profile.What does all this mean? Well, for one thing, it mean that everybody should be treated in the same manner regardless of their name, social status, residential location, board memberships, and ability to exert influence. If someone wants to build a sugar shack on his property, he should be treated just as politely as anyone else. If farm owners want to discuss putting up a flag that might be considered a sign, they should be treated with respect.

And when members of the public come before the school board, they should not have to plead for microphones so they can hear what's being said. More often than not, when people come before the planning board, they usually feel enabled, not disabled, regardless of the magnitude of their proposals.That's the way it should be.Of equal importance, and the point of this column, is that an equation exists involving the relationship between interactions, leverage and influence. This equation has been used quite successfully with respect to many special interest projects.

If it were used with projects of more general or broader application such as Valley Pride Day, our collective quality of life might very well improve. But in this regard, the emphasis is on "general" and not "special.".So the next time you watch a board presentation on local television or read about a nonprofit in the local news media in which the subject matter relates to a so-called special interest effort, do a bit of cross-referencing, connect the dots, and peel the onion. You may begin to notice that those on the most boards frequently wield the most influence and are in a position to do very good things.

And this is not a bad thing. Of course, they also can wield influence around projects that may be so narrow and subtle in scope as to arouse certain suspicions. And that may not be a good thing.

"The humblest individual exerts some influence, either for good or evil, upon others." Henry Ward Beecher.Ted Sares lives in North Conway. He welcomes and responds to all feedback, at tedsares@adelphia.net.


Ted Sares, PhD, is a private investor who lives and writes in the White Mountain area of Northern New Hampshire with his wife Holly and Min Pin Jackdog. He writes a weekly column for a local newspaper and many of his other pieces are widely published.His works focus on issues and themes dealing with socio-political topics, business and economics in which he advocates a free market approach to capitalism, patriotism, and matters dealing with individual freedom.

They are frequently inspirational in nature and sometimes reflect the Objectivist philosophy of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand. He also writes short stories that feature ironic and surprise twists.

By: Theodore Sares

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