Who are the Real Influencers at Work?


Mel Greenberg was a key influencer. In the newsroom of the Philadelphia Inquirer during its heyday, however, Mel wasn’t someone you would have initially identified as a person of influence.  He rarely met your eyes in conversation, rocked maddeningly from side-to-side as he talked–usually in a low mumble sprinkled with a lingo of his own making–and propelled himself on his rounds with an odd, head-first gait.

Mel had a strange passion for the statistics of women’s basketball at a time when no one else realized the sport existed. His title was “editorial assistant”–a fairly low spot on the totem pole.

farewellYet Mel was the go-to guy at the Inquirer for forty years.

He delivered the all-important Pulitzer Prize nominations to New York every year, created mix tapes (when they were still tapes, nothing electronic about them) for office parties.

He was once dispatched to Paris, first class, on a moment’s notice to deliver a black velvet painting of John Wayne to an editor in hiding–all key contributions to the newsroom zeitgeist.

Mel’s passion for women’s basketball elevated the sport to national importance and landed him in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame as guru of the sport.

Not sure who the real influencers are?

If you don’t know, you should find out fast.

Some may have powerful titles. But many will be hidden stars like Mel Greenberg, influential not because of their title but because they get things done. And they get things done because of their relationships with others. Their connections amount to power, formal or not. Mel called his connections “my insiders.” Believe me, they spread from the editor’s office to the press room.

How do you identify the influencers in your organization?

You could call in a social scientist for an Organizational Network Analysis–a diagram of relationships within your company.  An ONA is like a geneticist’s map of your DNA, showing the lines of communications between people and departments. However, if you’re interested but not ready to go the professional route, you can take an informal approach.

Think of Tinker Toys (if you’re too young to know what I’m talking about–I hate you–but hit the Bing button). Tinker Toys consist of round wooden nodes with holes along the edges and sticks to connect the nodes. The result is a three-dimensional structure. In an ONA, people are the nodes. The lines of communication and relationships between them are the sticks.

You’ll find that some people will have just one or two connections. Others will put a porcupine to shame. You may find someone like Mel in an obscure position who is the go-to person for everyone from the boss on down. You could also run across someone you considered a key player who, it turns out, barely knows his/her counterparts in other departments.

What’s the value of knowing your organization’s ONA?

  • Influencers can be powerful allies in achieving your goals. Or they can be the sand that sticks in your gears, thwarting every effort. Are they for you or “agin” you? Either way, you need to recognize their influence–then put it to use or quash it. Knowing the network can help you enhance operations or plan strategically for the long term.
  • You may discover that Paulina in Production serves as an important cross-departmental communications node. How will you cover that gap if she quits or retires? Should you be giving her special training, more responsibility?
  • There may be someone–someone quite unexpected–who everyone in the company likes and confides in; oddly enough, they never cause trouble themselves, but trouble can always be traced back along their lines of communication. You can’t do anything about that unless you recognize that person’s influence.
  • Last but not least, you never know when you may need to have a life-size painting of the Duke delivered in Paris.


Susan Caba, Author Complete Idiot's Guide to Leadership

Thank you to guest post author Susan Caba who has observed and written about leaders and the art of leadership for more than 30 years. She’s covered the leadership structures of business, science, education, professional sports, governmental bodies and philanthropic organizations–for a time, at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Connect with Susan and read how she’s gaining expertise on clarifying, simplifying and leading an artful life at Resale Evangelista.

Featured image via hireinfluence.com. Farewell to Mel from his retirement at the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2010 via hoopfeed.com. 

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