How to Influence People: The Most Overlooked Secret

Leadership is influence; nothing more, nothing less.
—John Maxwell

Anyone can be a leader — sounds easy, right? Well, it’s not. Because most people aren’t willing to do the one thing to grow their influence. So what do the world’s best leaders know that the rest of us don’t? And how do you become an influencer without feeling like a sleazy salesman? The answer may surprise you.

The most overlooked secret to influencing people

Photo credit: Flickr (Creative Commons)

Recently, people have been asking me how I’m able to do interviews with people likeSteven Pressfield and Chris Brogan. They wonder how I can get a guest post published on Copyblogger or how my writing was featured on Zen Habits, one of the most popular blogs on the web.

They want to know the secret to connecting with influential people. And despite how many times I tell them the answer, they don’t believe me.

They ask me how I got Seth Godin to endorse my eBook or how I was able to interview Michael Hyatt on Twitter. They want to know the answer to a simple question that confounds them. Maybe it haunts you, too. Here’s what they want to know:

Why can’t I gain more influence?

The secret to gaining influence

Some people don’t want you know what I’m about to tell you. It’s a secret long-held by the social elite. It’s what builds dynasties and topples regimes. It’s the explanation for how even the humblest beginnings can lead to the strongest successes.

This is important for you to hear. It could be the answer to getting your book published or launching a successful business. It could mean the answer to landing that relationship that changes everything.

The secret to how I connect with influential people is simple: I ASK THEM.

Why is it that so many people neglect this practice? Why overlook something so obvious? I have some thoughts on that, but first a little back story…

I’m no Dale Carnegie

Let’s get something straight: I’m no one special. I’m short, non-athletic, and slightly smarter than the average bear. But that’s about it.

I am not a charismatic leader or persuasive speaker. I do not possess any innate gifts for winning people over. I was a chubby misfit in high school who learned to play the guitar and avoided getting beat up (sometimes).

What I’m trying to say is this: I am far from an “outlier.” Even now, I’m often unsure of myself and struggle with confidence.

Why share this? Because if I can do this, you can do this. (And I mean that.)

How I met Seth Godin

I read in Tribes (a book by Seth Godin) that Bill Gates used to publish his email address. I thought that was interesting, so I decided to email the author and see what would happen. I asked him some advice.

A day later, he responded. And I was in awe.

A year later, Seth emailed me, offering to do an exclusive interview with me about his next book. When the book launched, he linked to my blog. And it was amazing.

But then I had a thought that changed everything…

If Seth Godin is THIS accessible, then who else can I access? 

If someone so influential and unreachable (in my mind) was just an email away, what would stop me from contacting anyone I wanted to meet?

And that’s just what I did.

What followed was a chain of events that included one audacious pursuit after another. I discovered there were others like Seth who were making themselves available to “average Joes” like me. This is the new leadership: accessibility.

There are leaders out there, waiting for you to connect with those who are bold enough to ask.

You are your own worst adversary

Not too long ago, I saw a friend had a guest post published on Problogger, one of the most popular blogs on the Internet. I was amazed… and a little jealous.

Although I had gotten into the habit of making big asks, this was one of the platforms that was still “off limits” to me. Maybe some day, I thought. So I sent my friend a message, asking him how he got his piece published.

Do you know what his secret was? You guessed it: He asked them.

He sent an email with an idea, they approved it, and then they published it. In fact, this was the second time he had done this. So I did the same — and it worked like a charm.

The enemy inside

We humans have a bad habit of talking ourselves out of greatness. (Click here to tweet that.)

We doubt ourselves, thinking we don’t have what it takes. We give in to fear and sabotage ourselves before we even begin. We are our own worst enemy.

A few weeks ago, I encouraged a friend to email a leader he admired. He wouldn’t do it. He had already made up his mind. This person was just too busy to respond.

After I had all but forced him to do it, the leader emailed him back almost immediately. My friend couldn’t believe it, because he had already said “no” for him.

Turns out, most people are this accessible. We just have to believe they want to hear from us.

How to win a friend

“Winning friends” was a phrase popularized by Dale Carnegie, and it’s one that bothers me. It sounds self-serving. Friendships aren’t won; they’re made, organically and honestly.

It wasn’t until I started reading Carnegie’s secrets in How to Win Friends and Influence People that I finally let my guard down. Here are a few:

  1. Show genuine interest in someone else.
  2. Remember people’s names.
  3. Listen.
  4. Sincerely make someone feel important.
  5. Smile.

Honesty and sincerity?! Man, what a jerk… ;)

Do you want to know what my secret is to getting influential people to do stuff for me? I put the idea of “getting influential people to do stuff for me” completely out of mind. And instead I try to help people.

I slay the dragon of insecurity and make bold, but humble, asks:

  • I invite someone to breakfast or coffee.
  • I ask for a few minutes to chat on the phone.
  • I listen, smile, and thank them.

That’s what I do; that’s all I do. In other words: I make a friend.

The real secret to winning friends and influencing people is this:Anyone can do it. You just have to ask.

Why you’re not an influencer — yet

So why aren’t you doing this? Why aren’t you connecting with influential people? If you’re anything like I was, you’ve probably succumbed to one of the following temptations:

  • You’re scared to ask.
  • You’ve already said “no” for someone else.
  • You’ve bypassed winning friends and tried to immediately influence people. In other words, you’re trying to use people.
  • You don’t listen.
  • You talk about yourself too much.
  • You think it’s all about you.

I believe you have something to say. I believe you’ve sabotaged yourself one too many times. I believe the world needs your voice and dream, and it’s time act.

Will you be bold and start making some asks? If you’re ready to begin, see how I make friends.

Further reading


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