I haven’t read Influencing Powerful People yet, so I can’t give you a review on it, but it promises sixteen proven rules on how to deal with the powerful people in your life. This list of people could include a boss, client, business partner or international colleague according to the author, Dirk Schlimm. Jokingly, at least in his live presentations about the book, he also suggests it could be the border control officer you encounter at customs, or a teenager requesting the use of the car from her parents.
In an uncharacteristic move for me, I attended a Book Club presentation at my social/fitness club this week because I wanted to see Schlimm speak. Maybe I am getting old…reflective…self-actualizing. Scratch the old part, because despite the fact it was my birthday this week (go ahead and send me belated wishes, good or bad, if you like), I felt far from old at the Book Club event. There were some keeners in their early twenties. A bunch of folks staring down fifty like me, and then a lot of folks who left the Book Club reading to attend the “Introduction to the Internet” workshop.

Schlimm didn’t disappoint. Using a great mix of larger than life characters, with some down to earth lessons, he kept all of us fully engaged for forty minutes. Even the presenter himself acknowledged how surprised he was that nobody whipped out a BlackBerry, iPhone or puffer. Throughout the lecture, I found myself creating scenarios for dealing with an egomaniac client, a hyper-competitive partner agency, and even for how some of my staff should deal with me. Ego aside, because I just called myself “Powerful!” (gag), I saw some of my own faults in his lessons and how the behaviours of my team trigger them. But enough mushy stuff, I have to go yell at someone. Kidding!
His lessons were culminated by a single insight – powerful people respond best to people that don’t need them. At first the crowd gasped. Then they ooh-ed. Then a few a-hahs. Then the Doubting Thomases jumped in. They felt it made no sense. If one person doesn’t need another, it is the former who has the power, not the latter. So the power conundrum becomes a death spiral. Forget the darn book, I need a kaleidoscope to figure this mess out!

It was only when I made a follow-up call to my service technician at my car dealer that I understood what it meant.

Allow me to meander. In theory, I have the power over my service tech. I bought the expensive SUV. I bring it in for the even more expensive service. I am the customer they want to keep brand loyal. I authorized the parts for the massive three-day repair job on my car.

But I am so wrong. The service tech is the one who didn’t call me to tell me the parts are in. The service tech is the one who forgot to organize the loaner car. The service tech is the one who is telling me that I have at least one, maybe two, more weeks of my family freezing our butts off when we go skiing, because the heater in our car won’t work.
This is upside down. Backwards. He has the freaking power!

So what do I do? I sweet-talk him. I make a joke. I compliment him for remembering I work at TrojanOne. I came this close to sending him flowers, buying him a Swiss Chalet gift card, and bequeathing my Leafs season tickets to him. Guess what?

It didn’t work! He said he would call me back in fifteen minutes. He hasn’t. Now I have to jump on a plane and the car is never going to get fixed. I am so mad at myself. I should have reamed him out until I pierced an eardrum, sent him emails that made his eyes bleed, and harassed his manager until he requested a restraining order.

This story doesn’t have some feel good ending. There is no sweet tale about how I learned to treat people better and I am forever going to be a better person for it. I didn’t get to ride off into the sunset in my toasty warm SUV.

Not sure what to do except the obvious. I better read the book; I’ve got a lot to learn about POWER.