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Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Circles of Influence....

...Originally I was going to start this on the BB that I haunt, but after consultation with a couple of people, it seemed wiser to make this a blog topic before someone starts a "WhizGidget Witch Hunt" (which have been popular at this time of the year in the past), or claiming the old "in-crowd" argument.

Anyway, recently I was involved in a conversation with a peer in my workplace about working from home on Fridays. Usually he does, and it was a surprise to see him in the office, and he said the same thing about me. That's odd, since I always am in the office on Fridays, but would love to work from home. The conversation moved along, and I mentioned that I'd love to swing it so that I could work from home on Fridays.

The individual replied that he was sure that I'd be able to do it because I "have an 'in' with the boss". The conversation continued for a few minutes past that point, and then ended. It was 10 minutes later that I stopped dead in my tracks and wondered almost out loud what he meant by that.

I wasn't sure what to make of it... and so I spoke with DH about it. And he reminded me of the spheres of influence that you have in any organization. You learn in sales, he tells me, that you have to identify who is a decision maker, and who has influence on that decision maker. And he thinks that this was that individuals way of acknowledging that I have a position of influence with the boss.

Perhaps I'm naive, but I never looked at anyone on my team as being more influential that the other - I figured we're all pretty much equal. Of course, in business, no one is equal. You have your obvious levels of management, and there are people who play favorites, but this isn't about that.

This is about the influence and counsel that one can have on a decision maker in the organization, and the idea that I may actually be one of those people. DH and I have had this conversation before, when I stopped working for the ex-boss from hell and we realized that my logical takes on reality might have more effect on the boss' decisions than the ex-boss' paranoid assumptions.

Still, though, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the idea that I have the boss' ear. It's an enviable position for those who are power hungry, and I think back to what I was like when I graduated from college and wanted to take on the world. *This* is the position I wanted to be in - someone who had power and influence, if not a decision maker myself. Maybe not this industry, since dot-coms really didn't exist in 1993, but definitely in this same sphere of power and influence.

I know of some who, if they named this as such, would revel in the position and the cachet of it. Personally, I think it's just a big to-do about almost nothing. And that it's a seat of great responsibility if it is indeed the case.

Now, if you boil it down to kindergarten terms (or high school, they're practically interchangeable), you could say that I'm part of the boss' "in-crowd". I don't like that connotation, nor do I think that that is particularly accurate because it reeks of being exclusionary, and that certainly is a death knell in business situations. Especially in staff meetings.

And there is a difference between being "in the know" and feeling "out of the loop" and it's not necessarily because you're not part of some inner circle, but perhaps because you weren't in the meeting (or didn't need to be) or that the reference to something pre-dates your existence on that team or in that company. I'm sure if you piped up and asked, you would learn what the reference meant. The same thing can be said of the BBs - perhaps you weren't in that thread, or it pre-dates you, but it certainly isn't part of an exclusionary process, and you can always ask the question.

I suspect that my co-worker, who still seems relatively new to the company even though he's closing in on one year here, probably doesn't get a lot of the references because he doesn't bother to ask. That and he definitely defers to some of us as being the expert at what we do, and that he can't do the same thing - the big one being: he isn't adept at manipulating data in Excel, where the boss and I are. He's come to me in the past for help, and I've given it willingly, but I dare suspect that my "in" with the boss does not come from any perceived sphere of influence, but probably more of a sphere of compatibility or competence with some numbers on a spreadsheet.

DH thinks I should take the statement as a compliment, but I'm not so sure of that. I think I could easily take it as a sign of resigned jealousy - I have an ability that this individual really wants, and really *needs* in his position (based on the expectations made on him). He's made critical assessments of data in the past, only to raise a fuss in email to the boss that I'm not doing something the right way, and has been consistently proven wrong because he forgot a variable in something, or didn't calculate something correctly. Rookie analyst mistakes that I don't make, because I've been doing this long enough that I know not to make them. That's more likely the root of my co-worker's statement - simple jealousy (or want) and one that can easily be ignored...

...but I won't ignore it, because in business, that could be dangerous.