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(Published in Daily Independent

Newspapers in 2007)

Many people view themselves as victims of

heartless organizations, as pawns, hapless
and helpless cubicle slaves with no option
than to dance to the tune of “the powers that
be”. They very often have little or no training
on how to effectively influence their bosses and are
unaware, though not clearly stated, managing an influencing
bosses are a continuous and functional part of any job
description. Little wonder many feel frustrated with “senior

The challenge therefore is to develop the ability to present

and sell ideas to the next line of approval thereby influencing
their bosses; and the earlier this is done, the less time would
be spent trading blames for not achieving the desired
results. Like Peter Drucker, America’s father of modern
management described it, “majority of people tend to focus
downward. They are occupied with efforts rather than
results, and are conscious above all of the authority they
should have. As a result they render themselves ineffectual
“The truth of the matter is that we all have the ability to
exert the power of influence, and you are either influencing
or being influenced by decisions, therefore even as a
subordinate (for everyone is a subordinate to someone else;
the Managing Director is subordinate to his customer and his
board of Directors).

Your power lies in learning how to effectively sell you ideas

“up the chain of command”, for you are only as powerful or
weak as you choose to be, like Tom Peters rightly said,
“Powerlessness is a state of the mind, if you think you are
powerless – You are!! So rather than becoming
disempowered by blaming “those at the top” and focusing
on what others have done to make things wrong, we can
begin to ask what we can do to make things right, and how
we can effectively pass the answers across. It must however
start from within.


Marshall Goldsmith said, “influencing up is similar to selling
products or services to external customers. They don’t have
to buy – You have to sell!”

It is your responsibility to sell your ideas up the chain of

command – not their responsibility to buy!

Any good sales person takes responsibility for achieving

results, says Goldsmith. No one is impressed with sales
people who blame their customers for not buying their
products. A subordinate loaded with ideas is a salesman. And
salesmen know that in order to close a sale, they must build
a good solid case, communicate with conviction and
enthusiasm (I read somewhere that the greatest principle of
human persuasion that exists is that, “People are more
persuaded by the depths of your conviction than by the
height of your logic - persuasion is not converting people to
our way of thinking, persuasion is converting people to our
way of feeling and believing.”)

A good sales person must also accept responsibility for
making himself understood by his listener. Drucker said,
“The person of knowledge has always been expected
to take responsibility for being understood. It is
barbarian arrogance to assume that the layman can or
should make the effort to understand the specialist.” More
time must be spent building your case (looking at all the
angles of your idea); you can then follow through by arguing
your case with conviction and enthusiasm – if your case is
strong enough, if you present it with contagious
excitement, you can often persuade senior management and
obtain buy-in.

As a subordinate, your power is in your influence, the

positional authority of your boss must not be allowed to
become a limitation. It’s similar to relationships. Harriet
Rubin said,” women can never be powerful as long as
they try to be in charge the same way men take

On a closing note I’d like to share with you an interesting

letter I came across in Bob nelson’s book, ,” Please don’t just
Do What I Tell You! Do what needs to be done”, written by a
Manager to his direct report, in which he clearly outlined
what he called the, “Ultimate Expectation of Every

“Dear Employee, you’ve been hired to handle some pressing

needs we have. If we could have gotten by in not hiring you,
we could have. But we’ve determined that we needed
someone with your skills and experience and that you were
the best person to help us with our needs. We have offered
you the position and you’ve accepted. Thanks!

During the course of your employment, you will be asked to

do many things: general responsibilities, specific
assignments, group and individual projects. You will have
many chances to excel and to confirm that we made a good
choice in hiring you.

However, there is one foremost responsibility that may never

be specifically requested of you but that you need to always
keep in mind through the duration of your employment. This
is the ultimate expectation, and it is as follows:


We’ve hired you to do a job, yes, but more important, we’ve
hired you to think, to use your judgment and to act in the
best interest of the organization at all times.

If we never say this again, don’t take this as an indication

that it is no longer important or that we’ve changed our
priorities. We are likely to get caught up in the daily press of
business, the never-ending changes of the operation, and
the ongoing rush of activities. Our day-t0-day practices make
it look like this principle no longer applies. Don’t be deceived
by this.

Please don’t ever forget the ultimate expectation. Strive to

have it always be a guiding principle in your employment
with us, a philosophy that is always with you, one that is
constantly driving your thoughts and actions.

As long as you are employed with us, you have our

permission to act in our mutual best interests. If at any time
you feel we are not doing the right thing- the thing you most
believe would help us at all – please say so. You have our
permission to speak up when necessary, to state what
is unstated, to make a suggestion, or to question an
action or decision.

This doesn’t mean we will always agree with you, nor that
we will necessarily change what we are doing; but we always
want to hear what you most believe would help us better
achieve our goals and purpose and to create a mutually
successful experience in the process. You will need to seek to
understand how and why things are done the way they are
done before you seek to change existing work processes. Try
to work with the systems that are in place first, but tell us if
you think those systems need to be changed. Discuss what
is presented here with me and others in the organization so
that we might all become better at applying the ultimate


Management should create a culture that encourages a high
level of employee participation in their organizations, a place
where senior management gives a free hand to their
subordinates to confront the brutal facts of the company’s
current reality. A place where management rewards
employees for coming up with new ideas.

For more on this, please see my previous article, “Building

ownership in the Workplace”.

I’d love to hear from you.

Kay Olufemi-Ayoola has been a practicing Career

Development expert and Coach for over 5years; he has
inspired thousands to reach personal and professional
fulfillment and transform their careers. Using individual and
group coaching, conducting hands-on workshops and
seminars and consulting with organizations , he coaches his
clients to advance up the corporate ladder quickly, and love
the job they have or land their dream job. Kay’s active
engagement in Human Resources and Career Development
began in the mid 1990’s as an undergraduate conducting
Personal Achievement Success Seminars (P.A.S.S) and Career
Talks, which were aimed at helping students maximize their
potentials regardless of prevailing obstacles in their
environment. He has extensive work experiences from
various Consulting firms and was Head, Human Resources
Vigeo Oil & Gas Limited, and Chief Operating Officer,
After School Graduate Development Centre before his
appointment as Head, Human Resources &
Administration, Spring Life Assurance Plc (a
subsidiary of Bank PHB). Kay is the founder and
Coordinator of Daystar Christian Centre’s Career
Development Unit – CareerPlus+ (started in 2004). He is a
frequent speaker at seminars conferences and has
published well over 60+ articles on Career Development,
Personal Branding, Career Change & Transitions and
Graduate Employability to date. He is the co-founder &
Partner of Executive toolkit: Peak Performance