I remember years ago reading a shocking article titled Don’t Believe Facebook; You Only Have 150 Friends. That was the headline from this 2011 NPR article. It stated that, while you can facially recognize 1,500 people and Ashton Kutcher has 17,200,000 Twitter followers (as of now), you can only have 150 meaningful relationships.
In other words, you can only influence a finite number of people. The wise among us will be intentional about the way we spread our influence.
A few years back, I cowrote a book called Clout, in which we discuss how to become a person of influence. One of the key things we address is the importance of strategically using influence. The project recalls what a college friend had shared about influence.
The premise is that you have four spheres of organic influence in your life: biological, geographical, vocational, and volitional.
Rudyard Kipling said, “God could not be everywhere, and therefore He made mothers.” There are some people in your life that you’re just stuck with (and I mean that in the best way possible): parents, grandparents, children, spouses, kids, and cousins. Whatever that group is, that’s your biological sphere of influence.
Keep in mind this sphere is not the same size for all people. Remember that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding? The groom shows up with his sphere of influence and then meets the bride’s sphere. No contest.
But how do you exert influence with this group?
Start with your immediate family. All parents should regularly ask themselves—independently, together, or both—if they are influencing their children individually, actively, and correctly. Then, challenge the children to have a positive influence on each other. Let it go the other way as well: The parents should let the children’s enthusiasm for life be contagious to them. Finally, everyone should keep an eye out for those who have a weak biological circle (single parents, the elderly, etc.) and invite them into theirs.
Win on your home court within your family with regard to influence.
If you work a 40-hour workweek (you probably work more than that) for 40 years, you’ll spend approximately 80,000 of your best hours at work in your lifetime. That amount of time affords you the potential for incredible influence.
So how do we do it? I keep coming back to four key words: serving, skill, character, and calling. With a commitment to these four objectives, anyone can exert significant influence within their vocational circle. These four words are like a multipurpose universal Swiss army knife. They are useful for anyone in any work setting.
A friend of mine was in an interview once and was told, “Your boss described you as ‘the conscience of the company.’” My friend was floored. He had no idea he held that kind of influence.
Use your hours at work with some intention.
Most of us are situated in a neighborhood or physical community of some kind. In other words, we literally live around dozens or hundreds of people with whom we share a spot on the earth.
In addition to my home base, we have other spots we regularly traffic. I wrote an earlier blog on “third spaces”. It came out of a conversation I led at the Toms Shoes flagship store in Venice Beach, California, in conjunction with the Q Conference.
Ray Oldenburg wrote in The Great Good Place that there is a whole category of places outside of work and home where relationships, ideas, events, and life happen. Think of your church, a local coffee shop, restaurants, grocery stores, hair salons, etc. Every one of these places that we frequent represents a geographical circle of influence. I know a young woman who always chose the same checkout line at her local grocery store so she could build a relationship with the cashier. I strive to become a “regular” at a couple of local restaurants—in part because I like the food but also so I can build relationships there.
We must use “where we go” as a strategic decision of influence.
Look at your calendar. There are the things you have to do every week, and then there are the things you choose to do—exercise, kids’ activities, golf, community volunteer work, etc.
The places we go and the people with whom we spend our discretionary time give us a wonderful opportunity for influence. People we run into regularly at the gym or at our children’s soccer games respond positively when we do or say the right thing. We don’t have to announce our good deeds in the town square, but neither should we hide our light under a basket. Let goodness and love for others run free.
Conclusion: Influence on Purpose
I’d challenge you to think about the people that you really want to influence. You might even want to make a list in each of these four areas. Rather than trying to know a ton of people well, recognize that there’s a limit to the number of meaningful relationships you can have.
NPR says that number is 150 faces in your organic family tree of intentional influence.
P.S. If you’re a senior leader who’s been enjoying my weekly blog content, I want to invite you to participate in my upcoming master class on The Five Tasks. I’ve worked with countless executives just like you who have achieved the job of their dreams but feel the pressure to see more clearly, decide more confidently, and still maintain a healthy balance in their lives. We’re going to talk about how to identify and excel in the things that really matter, so your business and your family can thrive. Learn more here.