Do you think your coworkers have influence over you? What about your significant other? Your friends? Could they get you to do something just because you’re following the crowd?
You’re probably thinking, “Eh, maybe a little, but I’m a pretty tough, independent guy/gal. I’m beyond being suckered in by others’ influences. Influences are for Junior High kids.”
Think again, buddy.
Surprisingly, we all have a wide circle of influence—larger and stronger and more powerful than we may realize, think or believe.
Remember a few years ago, when the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” was all the rage? People were fascinated by the theory that any Hollywood actor could be connected back to the actor Kevin Bacon through six connections or less. It became a popular party game. People would sit around trying to link back to Kevin Bacon.
Truth be told, this separation? It’s not limited to just actors, and in fact, it doesn’t even go as far as six degrees. Not even close! In fact, a Facebook study revealed that users in the United States were separated by only 3.46 degrees! Everyone—from the lady at the coffee shop, to the mechanic in Arkansas, to the elderly woman in Salt Lake City—you’re connected THAT closely to the people in the world around you.
The people we surround yourself with have an impact on our actions and our achievements. Look at “herd mentality” when it comes to trends, the stock market, and more. In fact, there are plenty of consumer studies out there on the way we influence each other’s’ choices in purchasing, how we dress, and even what we eat.
The thing about herd mentality and the influence of others is that we all think we’re “above” it, right? We ALL think we’re independent thinkers. We control our own minds and choices, right? Well, guess what?
As it turns out, our circle of influence is much stronger and broader reaching than we think or realize. If you go into a room with a bad attitude or feeling like you’re having a crappy day, your influence will spread. Rapidly. Like an infection, you’ll actually bring every person down you come in contact with.
The reverse is also true. In phone sales training, you may have heard the phrase “dial and smile”—because your smile can be heard in the pitch and tenor of your voice. Even without seeing you, customers can literally tell when you aren’t smiling or happy to be selling something. Your influence even extends through the phone!
So what can we take away from all this? Are we just products of our environment? Is it time for an existential crisis?
Do we have any free will at all?
Of course the point isn’t to scare you into feeling helpless or powerless. In fact, the knowledge of your influence should actually make you feel MORE powerful and even MORE in control.
You are a person of great influence!
As it turns out, you have incredible power over the people in your life.
For example, in a study called The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years (PDF), it was found that people who were obese were more likely to have friends who were also obese. In turn, the friends-of-friends of the obese people were also more likely to be obese. And here’s the kicker: almost unbelievably, the friends-of-friends-of-friends were ALSO more likely to be obese. This isn’t a lesson on obesity, of course—it’s about the power of our influence. Our habits can affect not only our family and friends, but also our friends’ friends…and even our friends’ friends’ friends. If just our habits can do that, imagine what our attitude can do!
Right now, you have influence over somewhere around 1,000 people. Your habits, your actions, and your attitude—they all have an influence on over 1,000 people in your circle.
YOU have the power within you to influence all those people with your positive choices, your goals, and your actions.
…and you also have the power to be a stick in the mud and bring everyone down. It’s up to you.
This is why the importance of surrounding yourself with transformational leaders cannot be understated. If you want to be MORE, to feel MORE, to GROW, learn and engage, you have to surround yourself with not simply friends, but allies.
Friends love you for how you are. Your friends might be good influences…or they might look to you to co-conspire, to be an ear and a sounding board, or to listen, nod and smile. Friends bitch and moan to us, and yes, they care—but sometimes they’re too polite. They have their agenda. Hey, they’re friendly.
Allies, on the other hand, bring to mind a different image. We think of allies as partners in war, right? World War II, we think of the Allied forces—those who came to the aid of partner countries and helped hold the line and fight against the Axis powers.
Allies have your back. They fight with you. They call you out on your shit. They’re tough. They’ll tell you when you screw up and when you’re not doing the job you should be doing. They’ll tell you when you aren’t living up to your own expectations.
We can find allies all around us. An ally might be your life coach, your partner, or your mentor. Yes, an ally might be your friend, but a friend might not always be an ally. To truly be someone’s ally, you might need to give them tough love—not warm and fuzzy acceptance and permissive leeway, but brutal honesty.
Greatness is in each of us. Our allies know that, and more than that, they expect it. Surround yourself with allies and you will win each battle and continue to forge ahead. Allies believe in us because they can see the truth of who we are.
So look at your circle. Who influences you and whom do you have influence over? Are you their ally and are they yours? Are you pushing your friends, your partner, and yourself to be the best you can be? Are you being an ally to yourself as well as to others, or do you listen to your own excuses?
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Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.