Isabel Van Hook also attended the “Africa’s Lessons for Our Future” seminar at Hamilton College in 2010. As a facilitator and trainer at the Levitt Leadership Institute,which emerged from that seminar, Isabel showed skills that led her to become a fundraising expert, particularly for women’s health organizations, and a formidable electoral campaign organizer. I asked her to pass on some lessons about influence, here defined as “the power to have an important effect on someone or something.”
Four things I learned about influencing as a women in my twenties:
- Relationships equal power. Make the time to cultivate positive working relationships with colleagues at all levels — within your department, your organization, or sector. The ability to call on a friendly colleague for a favor, their support, or to help overcome a challenge is valuable beyond measur
- Those in positions of power may know more than you, but they can’t know everything. Carve out your niche of expertise, whether that is the details of a budget or knowing the assistants of all stakeholders. You will be included at the table more often than not.
- Come correct. Do your research, be well-prepared, and understand the larger picture. That makes it easy to speak confidently and be valued for your opinions.
- Focus on your message, not the messenger. I had to recognize when I was the right person to bring up an opinion or idea–and when it would be more effective coming from someone else.
- Three behaviors I used that helped:
- Listen carefully and with respect. By being a trustworthy listener, those you seek to influence are more likely to share their concerns and obstacles to change directly with you–giving you more power to successfully overcome those sticking points.
- Overcommunication is the right amount of communication. Consistently keeping participants and stakeholders in the loop on the goal, expectations, timeline, and progress helped me ensure high-performance from my team, and avoid hiccups or conflicts along the way.
- Influence takes time and repetition. I had early and private conversations with multiple stakeholders to get their buy-in and work out kinks, so that when it came time to advance an agenda, we showed a united front.
- Two challenges I consistently faced:
- Knowing when to give up or dig in. Sometimes, even after hours of discussion — or months — we’d be back to square one. I had to let go of some fights to prioritize the ones where I could make a difference.
- As a young person, I was inevitably underestimated or dismissed. Build a reputation that serves you–as someone who catches the details, who thinks creatively, or who goes a step above–and find a mentor who will be in your corner to back you up when you need.
- One piece of advice I would like to share:
- Ambassador Prudence Bushnell shared a piece of advice that has been a guiding touchstone for me — “Be the kind of leader who does the right thing, not someone who merely does things right.” Even if it means going against the tide, sometimes doing the right thing is more important than going along with business as usual.
- OR: Harry Truman said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” As a young person, you will often be in the background — but that doesn’t mean you can’t wield influence. You’ll build your track record over time — but be sure to claim your credit when the time is right.