Saturday, July 26, 2014

Intelligent Influence

I have been amazed by the many positive comments about the TEDx speech I gave several years ago in Princeton called “Intelligent Influence.” This talk focused on one of the most important words in the world that, amazingly, is “hidden in plain sight.” The word “Influence” is used in conversations virtually every day by millions of people around the world who have not taken the time to understand the meaning and potential of this very powerful concept.

I believe that positive strategic influence is the secret to leadership and organizational success in today’s complicated business environment. My research on influence led me to develop a concept called Intelligent Influence® that is tailor-made for the business (and human interaction) realities of the 21st century. This unique leadership and strategy framework, which consists of four components, has the potential to change how people interact (especially in the business world). This approach has been so well received that I founded an international management consulting firm named Strategic Influence, LLC that has successfully helped executives, corporations, government agencies and nonprofits effectively utilize Intelligent Influence to achieve extraordinary success.

This concept is extremely useful when you apply it to your career goals and objectives. The first component, “Influence AwarenessTM”, is understanding how an individual or group is influenced. Think about the person, events or things that influenced you to pursue your current career or develop a passion for a particular hobby or even sports team. We all do what we do, like what we like and accomplish what we accomplish because of influence.

The second component, “Influence ImpactTM”, is understanding how an individual or group currently influences others. Take a minute or two to think about the influence that you have on others at home, at work and in your community? Ask yourself the question “How am I currently influencing my boss, co-workers, subordinates, family and friends?” My research indicated that there are six distinct types of Intelligent Influence. These are: Authority InfluenceTM, Belief InfluenceTM, Inspiration InfluenceTM, Reputation InfluenceTM, Resource InfluenceTM and Thought InfluenceTM. It is essential that you explore the extent to which you have each of these types of influence at home and work.

The third component, “Influence ManagementTM”, is proactively managing how you are influenced based on your analysis of your current influence (or lack thereof). Every person should identify their developmental goals and write down a plan to get the Internal InfluenceTM (training, mentoring, etc.) they need to accomplish their External InfluenceTM (personal and professional) goals. Make sure that you have Influence Integration and spend time being influenced by people who think very differently than you do. This means that HR executives should spend time with engineers, sales persons should spend time with finance executives and CEOs should spend time with front line workers.

The fourth and final component “Influence MaximizationTM,” is maximizing influence by connecting the three Caldwell Spheres of InfluenceTM that in combination are the secret behind the success of all influential individuals and organizations. The first sphere, “Credibility,” represents the influence that motivates people to take a person or organization seriously. The second sphere, “Creativity,” represents the influence that makes people respect an individual or organization because of their innovative approach and ideas. The third and final sphere, “Connection,” represents the influence generated when a person or organization makes an emotional connection with a person in a significant enough way to get them to follow the person or buy a product.

When a leader or organization can demonstrate each of these three types of influence in combination they can accomplish extraordinary things. The Intelligent Influence framework anchored by Influence Maximization occurs in every sector of society with both individuals and organizations. In business the three spheres of influence account for the extraordinary success of companies like Apple, McDonalds, Nike and Coca-Cola. For example, when Coke was the number one soft drink it had Credibility because of its long storied history; Creativity because of its “secret formula”; and, Connection because of the very successful “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing®” commercials which has resonated emotionally with millions of people over the years. Coca-Cola has been the number one brand because of their ability to demonstrate the three spheres of influence consistently over many years.

If you are serious about becoming an exceptional leader (or just having extraordinary relationships) you must identify the influences that shaped who you are (Influence Awareness); honestly assess your current influence strengths and weaknesses (Influence Impact); develop a career (and life) plan that identifies your influence-based developmental needs (Influence Management); and, demonstrate credibility, creativity and connection to maximize the influence that you have on the people who determine the level of success you have in both your life and your career (Influence Maximization). Intelligent Influence is the secret of success in the complex, diverse and fast paced world of today. Are you ready to use this strategy to influence the world around you?

Sunday, June 22, 2014


I have been overwhelmed by the extremely positive response to my book Intelligent Influence: The 4 Steps of Highly Successful Leaders and Organizations. This publication is built around the belief that “we do what we do, think the way we think and accomplish what we accomplish because of influence.” People from around the world tell me that this book has changed the way that they view themselves and the world. My research for this book has also changed my view of the world by teaching me that there are two very distinct types of influence.

The first type is “Social Influence” where a person is influenced to do or think things because of other people or situations. This type of influence, depending on its intensity, is often temporary. The second type of influence is a term I created called “NeuroinfluenceTM” which is defined as “influence that is powerful enough to cause neurological changes in an individual.” These changes to the brain frequently make this type of influence more permanent because the only way to change it is to expose a person to counter-influences capable of causing neurological changes.

I am frequently asked the question: What types of influences are strong enough to change the brain? The traumatic experiences that many individuals face on a regular basis can directly affect the parts of the brain that control emotions and memory. Studies, such as the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) research on 17,000 Kaiser Permanente patients, clearly indicate that traumatic childhood experiences are a fundamental reason why individuals do poorly in school and suffer later in life. Additional research has indicated that the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory forming, organizing and storing, and the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes emotions such as anger, fear and pleasure, are extremely sensitive to stress and trauma.

If a person is exposed to prolonged or extreme trauma (which is called “Negative NeuroinfluenceTM” or “NNI”) the amygdala and hippocampus change in a way that negatively affects an individual’s stability, sensitivity to others, memory and ability to learn. However, the good news is that “Positive NeuroinfluenceTM” or “PNI” can reverse the changes to the brain caused by the trauma generated by NNI.

The recognition of the widespread impact of negative and positive neuroinfluence has the potential to drastically change public policy in areas as diverse as healthcare, law enforcement and public education. The right public policy will influence physicians to use MRI’s more frequently to examine the impact of trauma on the brain. These policies would enable law enforcement to identify potential violent criminals before they commit a crime.  

The chronic academic achievement gap between urban and suburban and black and white students exists because current special education programs are inadequate in addressing the neurological problems of many urban and black students. These students, therefore, continue to do poorly in class and often distract other students from learning. Unfortunately, these classroom distractions, and their root causes, are one of the main reasons that there is a 30 point academic achievement gap on standardized tests between black and white students. The right public policy will lead to the creation of PNI programs that can transform students struggling from NNI into outstanding students.

Violence, suffering and abuse has become an unfortunate way of life for far too many students living in cities like Atlanta, Camden, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, New York and Trenton where the school that I lead is located. Many students hear gunshots on a regular basis in their neighborhoods. Sometimes they are threatened at gun point or deal with the brutal murder of a family member or friend. To make matters worse, many of these students are forced to skip dinner or have to move from house to house or car to car for shelter at night. Some of these students experience unthinkable abuse that causes even greater trauma to their young lives.

There are many programs treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (negative neuroinfluence) in war veterans. Society is starting to realize how significant a problem this is for people who have fought for their country. Unfortunately, there are not enough programs effectively treating this ailment in public school students and their parents. Educational leaders ignore the sad reality that many urban students have great difficulty learning because they are suffering from a form of NNI caused by violence, hunger, homelessness and abuse in the communities where they live.

Studies have shown that positive neuroinfluence programs designed to help students improve their self-esteem can help students significantly increase their academic proficiency. Programs like Northwestern University’s Project Harmony music program (where students learn to play instruments) change the brain in a way that makes it easier for students experiencing NNI to learn. According to Hugh Knowles, professor of neurobiology and physiology and director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern, “musical training has a positive effect on biological processes important for auditory learning, memory and hearing speech … which appear to translate into better language learning results.”

PNI programs can help war veterans, victims of violence and traumatized students improve their social and emotional response mechanisms so that they can succeed in school, work and life. Unfortunately, violent crime will increase and the academic achievement gap will likely widen unless policy makers support the expansion of PNI programs designed to address the social, emotional and learning needs of children, youth and adults who have experienced significant trauma in their daily lives.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Twilight Tutoring

There has been a lot of discussion on the relative value of lengthening the school day. Not surprisingly, there is a great deal of disagreement about the need to lengthen the school day in successful schools. However, there is almost unanimous agreement that the school day needs to be lengthened in schools where student academic proficiency rates are low.

As the son of a Civil Rights Leader who knew and marched with Dr. King, Head of School of a Charter School in Trenton, a school board member in New Brunswick, president of the Middlesex Regional Educational Services Commission (MRESC) and chair of the New Brunswick Housing Authority, I have a unique understanding of education and the roots and consequences of poverty in America. However, I returned a few days ago from an amazing 14 day trip to China over Christmas and New Year’s that opened my eyes to the deficiencies in the American education system.

This trip was designed to connect New Jersey and New York school leaders with Chinese educators to share best practices and foster student exchanges. However, to my surprise, it provided extraordinary insight into the ways that the US needs to adjust our approach to education to maintain our competitive advantage over other countries.

Most educational leaders know that Chinese students are among the best in the world when it comes to international assessments of academic achievement. The US is falling further and further behind other countries on these tests. My trip to China taught me some fascinating things. First, the good news is that the American education system is the best in the world when it comes to educating students from 8am to 3pm. Our class sizes, the quality of our classrooms and our teacher training is as good as it gets.

Contrary to the view of many educational leaders, I do not think we need to make major adjustments to our standard educational approach before 3pm. We visited some of the best schools in China where the ratio of teachers to students was more than 50 to 1 and the classrooms (and bathrooms) were so cold every student wore a heavy coat throughout the day. No American parent would tolerate student learning in these conditions. However, academically, these students can run circles around our best students.

I therefore asked myself the question, if our schools are better during the day how can we be so far behind academically? I was initially confused by this contradiction until I realized that China is as focused on the education of students from 3pm to 8pm as they are from 8am to 3pm. Many of the K through 12th grade schools in China have more than 6,000 students. However, students from very poor families and those that live far away are housed for free near the school. Consequently, to create a culture of learning at the school, more than 4,000 of these students live in local dorms. These dorms ensure that students are as focused on academic excellence after school as they are during the school day. This is not the case in the US.

This trip opened my eyes to the reality that the primary reason American students are not doing as well academically as Chinese students is that in suburban, urban and rural schools most students are more focused on entertainment from 3pm to 8pm than they are on learning. They would rather listen to the most popular music, play the latest video game, watch TV or communicate via social media than study the subject areas that confuse them. Most students do their homework. However, academic excellence comes from working on academic weaknesses in addition to completing homework in the evening. American students are not doing this. We have a culture of after-school entertainment while China has a culture of after-school learning.

Proposals for a longer school day are being criticized by teachers unions who want more money for a longer day and parents who think their students have enough homework. I believe that the school day should be lengthened only for struggling students and teachers that are willing to work for standard hourly rates. If government is serious about increasing student achievement it should advocate for (and in some cases support financially) a two hour academic excellence program immediately after the end of the school day for struggling students. I call this a “Twilight Tutoring” program.

The good news is that new technology programs allow for very focused and productive tutoring. The only way that this tutoring will be effective is if the students are assessed weekly by a technology program that is highly correlated with state standardized tests that identifies the specific remediation needs of the students (and provides curriculum to help them address these needs). The tutoring must therefore be aligned to this curriculum and focused specifically on the areas were the student is weak based on the assessment. The program will enable the school and the students’ parents to measure academic growth on a weekly basis.

To manage program costs the government can set hourly rates and open it up to teachers and others who have the knowledge and experience to ensure that the tutoring is aligned to the unique needs of the students. This will keep contentious negotiations out of the process and enable the most committed tutors to participate. This approach will not guarantee that the US catches up academically to China. To do that we need to establish boarding programs directly aligned with poor performing public schools. This will ensure that struggling students are in environments in the evening that are conducive to achieving academic excellence. However, the Twilight Tutoring program that I am proposing will significantly increase the academic achievement of struggling students. This approach is an essential first step in making American pre-college education a global leader once again.