Being There ' by yud98542



                                                                                                 PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Creating Influence
through ‘Being There’


                 e all need somebody to           leagues, business connections, stake-            ship manager, and the respect others
                 lean on …”                       holders, and so on.                              have for your opinions, expertise, and
                   When Bill Withers                 We can each develop such a repu-              contribution. People with social capital
                 wrote these words for            tation by constantly asking ourselves            “matter”—not through rank or title but
his hit song “Lean on Me” (readers too            two questions: Am I leaning whenever             through the earned admiration of others.
young to have heard it when it was on             possible on my colleagues to grow as a           Thus, a person in an entry-level position
the charts may enjoy it online), he was           professional? Am I likewise offering oth-        may be an influencer because he or she
onto something: The people we lean                ers the opportunity to lean on me?               has garnered a reputation as an expert,
on—that is, whose help we seek out and                                                             spearheaded a popular and successful
whose opinions we trust—often end up                                                               initiative that was not necessarily in his or
exercising influence, even though influ-          Social Capital: A Key Element                    her portfolio, or shown in some other way
ence may not be on their minds.                   One key ingredient in developing and             the ability and willingness to make some-
  Achieving a reputation as being                 exerting influence is social capital. Social     thing positive happen. Having social
someone who carries our profession                capital is variously defined as some             capital means others will go out of their
forward through influence does not                combination of credibility, popularity           way to support you and will forgive minor
require performing spectacular acts or            and respect—for example, the credibil-           flaws if necessary.
taking heroic measures. All it takes is           ity you have as an expert, the popular-             On a personal note, I believe I built
the determination to “be there” for col-          ity you enjoy as a successful relation-          social capital in my early years when,

ULLA DE STRICKER, 2007 chair of SLA’s Leadership and Management Division, is a Toronto-based information and
knowledge management consultant. She speaks regularly about career-related matters and comments about information
and knowledge management topics on her blog ( Her book, Business Cases for Info Pros:
Here’s Why, Here’s How, was published in 2008 by Information Today, Inc. To contact her, visit

                                                                                     INFORMATION OUTLOOK V13 N05 JULY/AUGUST 2009           13

Achieving a reputation as being someone who carries our
profession forward through influence does not require
spectacular acts or various forms of heroic measures. All
it takes is the determination to “be there” for colleagues,
business connections, stakeholders, and so on.
during my business travels, I volun-            be as unobtrusive as developing a reputa-     our discoverable knowledge.
teered to speak to local professional           tion as a go-to expert or quietly nurturing      Another approach is to look for rel-
groups and when, year in and year out,          relationships, or it can be as noticeable     evant value in, and borrow and adapt
I assisted students and colleagues with         as campaigning intensely for an initiative    ideas from, other professions (such as
preparing their resumes. I hope I’m still       or getting others excited about a vision.     management, accounting or journal-
building it when I hold various roles in        Authoring blogs, offering to speak and        ism) to enrich our own scope of activity.
SLA and when I engage with individuals          teach at local events, and writing book       Take the business approach to decision
who approach me for collegial input.            reviews for the local chapter bulletin are    making—step back from the view that
From that bank account of contribu-             all examples of quiet but effective ways to   “librarianship as we define it through
tions, I have developed (so I’m told)           exert influence.                              our many services is inherently valu-
a reputation as someone who can be                 Taking a stand confidently and refus-      able” and adopt the view that “clients
counted on to help.                             ing to bend in the face of criticism or       will pay if they perceive a value to them-
   I use my social capital to connect           opposition are marks of influencers. So,      selves.” Recognize and appreciate the
people who may benefit from finding             too, are expressions of the trust others      fact that if you cannot make a business
each other, to ask for help when I need         put in us, such as when they request we       case to a decision maker, your project
it, and, in general, to navigate within         manage a project or elect us to a role in     will not advance.
the profession with a view to assisting         an association or volunteer group.               Work constantly to strengthen net-
our future influencers. And what have              Some aspects of influence have char-       works among practitioners so as to
I discovered? Social capital appears            acteristics in common with trailblazing       expand the opportunities for individuals
to be inexhaustible and self-renewing.          (being the first to propose, adopt or         to lean on each other. Use your existing
What a deal!                                    do something) and with entrepreneur-          contacts (“I’ll have Pat get in touch with
                                                ship (“just doing it” without any safety      you”) and seek out new ones. Always
                                                net). As a personal example, I was not        ask yourself, “Who else should be part
What is Influence?                              thinking about exerting influence when,       of this conversation?”
How do information professionals who            years ago, I convinced a manager of the
are considered influential define their         need for a program at a local educa-
influence? Following are some examples          tional institution and then created such      Something Valuable to Offer
of how influence plays out, according to        a program. I did it because I thought it      Information professionals historically
those who have led influential careers.         needed doing.                                 have not been regarded as take-charge
   First, influencers look beyond the                                                         types but rather as steadfast support-
status quo and, notably, have a better                                                        ers of the missions of their employing
proposal up their sleeves. For instance,        Gaining Influence When New                    organizations. The influencers among
they reach out to IT personnel and              These traits or characteristics of influ-     us are an exception—they strive to gain
work hard with them to deploy the lat-          ence are helpful in defining what it is       visibility for, and increase understand-
est and most powerful desktop tools for         and how it works, but how can new             ing of, our profession.
the benefit of clients. They are always         information professionals acquire influ-         Influencers seek out opportunities
on the prowl for new or better ways to          ence? To point the way for new profes-        to generate media coverage, such as
enable their clients to help themselves         sionals to become influential, I have         by accepting speaking engagements.
where appropriate (this includes mak-           compiled some advice.                         Influence means reaching out to, and
ing sure clients know the “value tricks”           One approach is to contribute actively     starting dialogues with, representa-
of the new tools).                              and frequently to the body of knowledge       tives from other professional groups
   Influencers also look for ways to contrib-   our profession possesses. Share your          to exchange insights and ideas for the
ute their skills and experience throughout      discoveries, experiences and opinions         benefit of all (expanding job opportuni-
their careers, in any and all ways that may     through a Web site, blogs, or formal          ties would be one such benefit).
be opportune. Exercising influence can          publications and add to the universe of          Influencers also demonstrate that

                                                                                         PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

they are able to achieve goals for their     • I organized the events for ___, so I       what I have heard.) I quickly explain
organizations by going beyond provid-          could be on the program committee          how almost any life or work experience
ing excellent and responsive service.          for ___.                                   can contribute to painting a picture of a
They seek out opportunities to forge         • I enjoy tinkering with ___, and I could    desirable hire.
cross-departmental relationships, bring        show others how these things work by          Similarly, I see evidence that current
the right people to the project table, and     doing ___.                                 and future influencers in our profes-
spearhead business initiatives.                                                           sion may not self-identify as such. My
   Hmm, you might think, that’s all well        The goal is to identify something         reaction is that we need to define for
and good for the extroverted person-         you enjoy doing and feel secure about,       ourselves a goal-accomplishing orien-
alities, but I’m really not comfortable      then transpose it onto the activities of     tation so as to foster a sense of being
sticking my neck out. Above all, I don’t     a professional association or interest       able to achieve more. The overarching
want anyone to wonder, “Who does she         group. If you are still in doubt, do what    goal I’m thinking about here is to help
think she is?”                               I always tell resume writers to do: Ask      the profession grow in strength and
   In my view, every information profes-     a few trusted colleagues what they           thereby generate more opportunities
sional has something valuable to offer       see as your professional and personal        for info pros to have a positive impact
fellow practitioners, clients, the local     strengths. You may be surprised, but go      on society.
or practice community, and society in        with what you hear!                             Using SLA to illustrate this process,
general. If you aren’t sure what that                                                     here are some questions we can each
something is in your case, you could                                                      ask ourselves:
gain more clarity by finishing state-        Seeing Yourself as Influential               • Am I volunteering to support an event
ments such as these:                         In my volunteer work with students              in any way? (Taking registrations or
• Actually, I’m pretty decent at ___.        and colleagues, I have come across              organizing a venue are common
• Given my involvement in ___, I know        examples of staggering humility. “Nine          examples.)
   a lot about ___.                          years of managing a business—is that         • Do I serve on a committee?
• My work on the ___ board of directors      relevant in my application?” “What,          • Do I respond to requests for assis-
   has taught me how to ___.                 experience as a hospitality manager             tance from another group member
• Since I’ve been helping out with ___,      should go on my resume?” (These                 by following though until the desired
   I could do something similar for ___.     examples are made up, but reflect               results are on track?

                                                                             INFORMATION OUTLOOK V13 N05 JULY/AUGUST 2009      15

• When I come across an item of inter-
   est I feel could be missed by col-
   leagues, do I pass it on?
• Do I participate in and contribute
   ideas, materials, and resources to
   discussion groups?
   If you answer “yes” to these ques-
tions, you are contributing to forming
and maintaining an environment in
which our professional contributions to
society can evolve.
   SLA and its subgroups—indeed, all
professional bodies—offer participants
the opportunity to accomplish one goal,
then another, and so on along the path
to what some see as “senior” influence.
The truth is that achieving “senior”
influence results from exercising influ-
ence all along the way, starting with,
say, being a student SLA liaison at
library school. The trick is to go from
student rep to local chapter committee
                                              People with social capital “matter”—not
member to division committee member           through rank or title but through the
and so on. The sequence is unimport-
ant; the participation is all-important.      earned admiration of others.
                                              of inadequacy—on the contrary, it shows       so advertise it through the many com-
Influencing Your Way
                                              judgment and initiative. You’d be amazed      munication vehicles within your SLA
Now let’s go back to the Bill Withers
                                              how many of your fellow practitioners are     chapter and division and through your
song. First, lean on others—then be
                                              grateful to have a chance to provide the      local and personal networks.
someone others can lean on.
                                              same help they once received.                    Share your expertise with others by
   SLA offers many opportunities for the
                                                 Finally, be specific in your request.      writing, blogging, speaking, teaching,
information profession’s incipient influ-
                                              State the situation you are facing and        and being a sounding board. Offering
encers to find their way and flourish. As
                                              the outcome you’d like to see, but leave      to deliver talks and presentations at pro-
SLA celebrates a century of activity and
                                              the specific nature of the help you seek      fessional events is a good way to make
looks to the future, I am eager to see
                                              open for discussion. “I need to make a        it possible for colleagues to benefit from
how we as a community continue to
                                              presentation next month to the budget         what you know.
demonstrate the results of our commit-
                                              committee and I’m not experienced                Propose and promote programs and
ment to support each other. The steps
                                              at crafting a compelling story. Can           initiatives to add to the opportunities
in the process are simple enough.
                                              you help?” is better than “Can I talk         for professional growth. Make it a per-
                                              to you about presentations?” because          sonal priority to undertake actions and
   May I Lean on You? First, know your
                                              your colleague can decide right away          accept formal professional roles that are
strengths and weaknesses and espe-
                                              whether to continue talking or refer you      “above and beyond” the call of duty.
cially the areas in which you need to lean
                                              to someone else who is in a better posi-      You can do it because you have others
on others. Do you need help getting over
                                              tion to assist.                               to lean on.
a fear of public speaking? Are you strug-
                                                                                               Whenever you assist a colleague,
gling to develop a business proposal or
                                                 Lean on Me. Once you feel comfort-         request that he or she share that fact
wondering how to live up to the particu-
                                              able, stand up and make it clear to           with others so as to get the word out.
lar expectations of a new job?
                                              fellow practitioners and especially to        Don’t forget how good it looks on your
   Next, use the SLA network to seek out
                                              students that you are available and           resume when you are able to recite your
help. A simple “Do you know someone who
                                              delighted to provide collegial support.       contributions. SLA
can…” typically yields contacts in no time.
                                              Remember that many people who could
   Overcome any hesitation you may
                                              benefit from your expertise may have no
have about asking for help. Just do it.
                                              way of knowing you are willing to offer it,
Asking for guidance is not an admission


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