I was recently part of a think-tank discussion for a company launching a new product. One of the most compelling voices around the table was Doug: creative, master-mind in the resort industry. Manages scores of hotels and ski operations in the US and Canada.
From the get-go, Doug stood out. He seemed to occupy so little space (read: had one very intact ego.) He spoke in sound-bites, questions, and "what ifs." But most of the time, he was listening. Intently. With eye-contact, slight nodding, open body posture. Whoever was speaking received Doug's undivided attention. But it was the kind of attention that was comforting and scary at the same time. Because Doug had this way of keying into both ideas and the person behind the ideas: in a nano-second, he seemed to be able to size up what made you tick.
As the discussion progressed, there were disagreements, ranging from mild to heated. At a couple of points, the disagreements escalated to shouting matches across the table. I was curious to see what Doug saw - how he had translated those moments. After dinner on the second day, I was able to ask Doug his impressions of the skirmishes. He was characteristically laser-like but, more importantly, compassionate in his description of the individuals involved:
"Ed: He's beyond bright. My guess? He easily outranks most people he meets. Probably been at the head of his class his whole life. But at least half this group is in that category. So, it's hard not to be the coolest kid in third-grade. What strategy do you use then?"
"Marilyn: She walks into a room and there's this phenomenal presence. Intelligence. Poise. Charisma. Leadership. She's got it all. The problem is, she doesn't know that or isn't sure of it sometimes. So she raises the volume level and speaks in chapters. Blocks out what she's doing to the other person and to the vibe of the room."
Spot-on. How does he do that? I wondered. No wonder he gets paid to do this for a living. No wonder he's called in to mediate union disputes. No wonder he had become the unofficial leader of or think-tank after the first 10 minutes. And yet, he said the least of all of us. Doug taught me more about influence in those two days than any book or conference - and I've read a lot of books and attended a lot of conferences!
In his book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink contends that the 21st century ushered in a new age: the third act in a three-act play. Act One: The Industrial Age, with economies fueled by mass production. Act II: The Information Age, with economies fueled by knowledge. Act III: The Conceptual Age with economies fueled by innovation. What's fascinating is that in Act III, the main drivers or "characters" are not the industrial moguls, nor are they the high-tech big brains. They're the creators and empathizers: - those who link the best of left-brained capacities with right-brained, intuitive processes. These are the individuals with proven analytical competence, marinated in top-of-the chart emotional intelligence. As Pink describes them, they are high-concept, high-touch.