Real Influence Is the Holy Grail of the True Go-to Person

The long game of real influence is a generous, other-centered focus that adds value to every interaction.

Real influence—the holy grail of the true go-to person—is a direct function of the way their colleagues think and feel about them. People want to work with them and make good use of their time because people trust their judgment, they are great at their jobs, and working with them is a great experience. That’s why people want go-to people to have more power—because their power helps other people get their needs met.

The Long Game Is Played Moment by Moment

There is a crucial lesson that Lisa emphasizes to all of her nursing students: “Before you do anything else, check: Does the patient have an airway? Is there adequate circulation? If those things aren’t there, none of the other issues are going to matter.”

That is not just good emergency medical practice. It’s also a great metaphor for one of the most important rules of go-to-ism: play the long game with people to build real influence, but remember that the long game is played moment by moment by doing the right thing in one short-term interaction after another.

When it comes to winning the trust and confidence of colleagues, you have to play the long game. Over time, you get a reputation for making good decisions and not just getting things done, but getting the right things done and getting them done right. When you say, “No,” people know it’s not because you don’t feel like doing it or because you are overwhelmed, but because there are good reasons. Likewise, when you say, “Yes,” people know they can count on you to follow through.

Here’s the formula for the long game:

(Do the right thing moment by moment) × over time = Real influence

The long game of real influence is a generous, other-centered focus that adds value to every interaction. And, in turn, the value you add:

  • Makes the other person more valuable, including to you, instantly and over time
  • Contributes to more successful and fruitful interactions, as well as better short- and long-term outcomes
  • Builds up your reputation as a true servant to others

If you understand the mathematics of real influence—and believe in it—you can make yourself incredibly rich in a potent source of power by dedicating yourself to serving others, moment by moment, in every interaction.

What does that look like in real life?

Know the rules as well or better than the bosses. Be relentless about ethics, procedures, and doing the right thing, but also cut through unnecessary bureaucracy. Be a workhorse who always has a long to-do list and yet isn’t drowning in it because you execute on one concrete deliverable after another. Focus on continuously improving the working relationships between and among the many people—up, down, sideways, and diagonal—with whom you must work.

Believe in the peculiar mathematics of real influence: The best way to enrich yourself is by serving others.

Foster Real-Influence Thinking as Your Guide

Let yourself be guided by real-influence thinking—always doing what’s right, in the right order, and putting service to others first. Conduct yourself in such a way that things get better, right away, and make other people want to both rely on you and do things for you.

You might say, “That sounds like a very idealistic view.” You might worry that somebody will try to take advantage of your service mindset and your generous value adding and, rather than thinking more highly of you, they will think you are a sucker.

And it’s true. There will always be mean-spirited, selfish, self-aggrandizing, or otherwise insensitive clods. Don’t worry. Most people don’t respond that way, and the ones who do usually self-destruct. Until they do, you still need to work with them. So make sure you are aligned, make good decisions, plan the work, work the plans, get it done, bank the successes, and try to get better at working together.

It’s not personal. It’s business.

Bruce Tulgan is the best-selling author of “It’s Okay to Be the Boss” and the CEO of RainmakerThinking, the management research, consulting, and training firm he founded in 1993. All of his work is based on 27 years of intensive workplace interviews and has been featured in thousands of news stories around the world. His newest book, “The Art of Being Indispensable at Work: Win Influence, Beat Overcommitment, and Get the Right Things Done,” is available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all major booksellers on July 21, 2020, from Harvard Business Review Press. You can follow Bruce on Twitter @BruceTulgan or visit his Website at:

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