This is part two in the series, The Five Levels of Influence. You can read part one here. For reference, here are the five levels:

  1. My presence matters
  2. My presence shapes the behavior of others
  3. My presence outlasts my presence
  4. My presence can shape the presence of others
  5. My presence can contribute to achievements beyond my control

Assembly Line Living

In 1936, Charlie Chaplin starred In the movie, Modern Times. The movie pokes fun at the social and workplace changes that were occurring in the 1930s. Early in the movie, we find Chaplin at work. He is diligently tightening nuts on widgets as they zoom by on the assembly line. As you might expect, Chaplain gets himself into a series of slap-stick oriented scenarios that cause problems for him and everyone else. The comedy emerges both because of his slip-ups and how he tries to solve them.

There is one very brief scene where a co-worker relieves Chaplin, allowing him to take a break. As Chaplin turns away from the line, he continues, in an exaggerated fashion, to perform the motion he made while standing at the line. The twisting, turning, and jerking motion that made sense “on the line” looks ridiculous as he walks to the break room. It’s as if Chaplin’s gone into a kind of autopilot — simply repeating the same motions over and over. He can’t stop. He’s become robotic.

Level One Influence: My Presence Matters — Leaving Mindless Behavior Behind

We initiate the first level of influence — presence matters — when we decide to stop consistently living a mindless life. Level one influence requires that we stop going through the motions and realize life is not an assembly line and does require a thoughtful approach to how we present ourselves in the world. Our words, expressions, postures, dress, demeanor, and attitudes send powerful messages to the people around us. When we awaken to that reality and deliberately present ourselves in ways that match who we are and want to become, we’re in the early stages of influence.

When Routine and Habits Go Bad

Habits and routines are in one sense, wonderful gifts. Think about life without them. Imagine if you had to learn to eat every day. Consider your commute if every day you had to figure it out anew. How about learning to walk or talk every morning? Obviously, none of this sounds appealing. The power of habits and routine are that, in one sense, they let us perform actions without much new effort or attention. This allows us to focus on doing other more complicated or creative things. Habits and routines give us bandwidth.

But when it comes to habits and routines, it’s not all good news. Not even close. As we settle into life habits and routines, we are tempted to “go all Charlie Chaplin.” We become robotic, acting a part without being all that engaged. Worse yet, we may not even be present as we do the action. When we succumb to this automatic behavior, we often declare that we are going through the motions, or just not into it. Just like Chaplin, we go missing in action.

Developing “Presence” through a Deliberate Approach

After more than 30 years of coaching individuals and teams, as well as time spent researching human dynamics and leadership, here is one of the most important realities I’ve observed:

Human beings forget where they are, what they’re doing, and why it matters.

No matter how old were are, we create and sustain authentic presence through a deliberate approach. Since how we show up in any given moment is important to our well-being and success, deliberately showing up requires a mix of foresight and forethought. This could be as simple as intentional hygiene, or as complicated as planning our words and emotions to set a tone during an important conversation.

Arrive Before You Arrive — An Important Level One Question

If we want our presence to matter in any given moment, we have to prepare for the moment before it arrives. I like to think of this as, arriving before you arrive. To do this, ask and ponder this question: What will be happening in the moment ahead (foresight) and how can I present myself in order to maximize the chances that the moment will unfold well?

In other words, level one influence occurs when, before arriving in a moment, we anticipate what could happen, or we want to achieve, and then align our presence to that desired outcome. Now we’re edging close to the second level of influence, which will save for another article.

Suffice to say, we’ve achieved level one influence when we consistently do three things:

  1. We apply foresight (we consider what could happen) to important moments ahead
  2. We apply forethought (we plan how we want to show up in light of what could happen) to important moments ahead
  3. Once we arrive at the moment, we act on our foresight and forethought or deliberately adapt

The bottom line about level one influence: When the moment matters, we don’t go all Charlie Chaplin during it. Instead, before that moment arrives, we apply foresight and forethought, and then act on or adapt that foresight/forethought as the moment unfolds.

Double Bottom line: Be intentional about how you’ll show up before you do, and you’re practicing level-one influence.