The power of influence—by Victor Cheng


We publish below an interesting write up by Victor Cheng. If you master and put his principles to practise, you will become far more influential than you are now.


In any company, there are broad categories of power. One is formal authority. The other is influence.  When you lead an organisation of 500 employees, you have formal authority. Your 500 employees will listen to you because you have the power to fire them if they don’t. That is formal authority. When you are so deeply respected that people voluntarily listen to your ideas, that is influence.

Consultants from the global top three consulting firms have no formal authority in their clients’ organisations. They don’t control a budget. They can’t hire anyone. They can’t fire anyone. They can’t sign a contract on behalf of the client company. They can’t even use the client’s money to buy a pen for the conference room.

Yet… intuitively, we grasp the concept that if the CEO and board of directors all listen to the consultant, the consultant has influence.

When you speak, does your boss’s boss take notes? Do colleagues ask for your opinion?  In a large group meeting, when you speak, does everyone else suddenly stop talking, so they don’t miss what you have to say? Do your ideas automatically get taken seriously just because you said them? If so, you have a form of influence known as gravitas.

The term “gravitas” has Latin origins. Its earliest reference came from Romans who saw gravitas as a virtue much desired in their leaders. It is typically translated as weighty or serious. It is very much related to the word “gravity,” such as noticing the gravity (or seriousness) of the debate on how to proceed.

When you have good ideas, you know you suffer from a lack of gravitas when: you offer an idea, but nobody seems to hear it; then a colleague repeats the exact same idea, and everyone loves it.  Before you even finish your thought, you can tell your idea has already been dismissed. When you speak, nobody pauses to listen. When you speak, you constantly get interrupted by others and can’t even finish your thought.

People with gravitas simply get taken more seriously, more of the time.  It may not be fair (it isn’t), but it is also true. Here is one simple technique for boosting your gravitas… borrow it. Let me explain via an example.

When you have a good idea but are having a hard time getting heard in a room of senior and junior colleagues, here is a tool to keep handy. Address the most senior person in the room by name. Let’s assume that Jonathan is the executive vice-president of your division. You say, “Jonathan, I’d like to share some relevant additional facts related to what you just said. Would it be okay if I share them?”

Of course, Jonathan will say, “Yes.”

Before you share what you are intending to share, start by repeating something Jonathan said… then add to it. That’s it. Now let us analyse this for a second. At first glance, this seems unnecessarily formal and slightly awkward. Presumably, the entire reason you are in the room is because you might have some information to share.

Here is the rationale for doing so anyway. When you ask and get permission from the senior executive in the room to speak, you have essentially enlisted a high-gravitas ally. As you speak, if someone interrupts you… they are effectively interrupting you and Jonathan. When you start by acknowledging what Jonathan said, Jonathan already thinks you are speaking wise words because you are repeating his own words back to him.

This helps build a bridge between Jonathan’s ideas and your own. It gets him more vested in hearing your idea, because your idea builds upon and improves his idea. 

By having everyone else in the room hear the senior person grant you the “floor” (i.e., the time to speak), it makes it very hard for someone to take the “microphone” out of your hands.


Victor Cheng.

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