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Throughout history, empires were erected, revolutions were staged and science flowered. Yet, the colossal mould of these events, in our minds, could have easily dissolved the sheer fact that they were orchestrated by specific people. It is easy to forget the Tunisian whose self immolation coupled with zealous activism by influential citizens, spawned what would later be the Arab spring. By the same token significant incidents that ever happened gathered momentum through relationships built by leaders . Relationships lubricated fulfillment of their interests. And on a closer look influence was at their nexus. It is a constant that stretches its tentacles into various relationships existing in organizations from corporations to social movements. What strategies can one use to gain influence, better still how can one wield it effectively?

Studying Law was a rather insipid experience for the young Hungarian, Ignaz Semmelweis. His distaste for the subject culminated into a switch to medicine, a field that indulged his passion eventually leading him to a job at the obstetrics department in the University of Vienna in 1846. Working as an assistant at that department meant tackling the challenge of childbed fever which was prevalent in maternity wards in Europe at that time. Dissecting corpses of patients that died from the disease, doctors would find puss and large amount of putrid flesh. Some Medical practitioners believed childbed fever was caused by “polluted air” known as miasma while others thought it was a result of pus, which they mistook for milk. Breast milk was then thought to be a product of menstrual blood under the belief that there was an anatomical relationship between the upper uterus and the breast. It would not be long before Semmelweis discovered that mortality rates were higher in the clinic attended by medical interns compared to the second one attended by midwives within the department. What was even more startling was that women who gave birth in the streets never caught the disease. He suspected that interns spread the disease during childbirth after handling corpses. His suspicions were confirmed when his colleague died of the illness after accidentally pricking himself with a scalpel while conducting a postmortem on a woman who had childbed fever.


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Without haste, Semmelweis commanded those in his ward to wash their hands with chlorinated water before attending to mothers giving birth, a practice that significantly reduced mortality rates. It was now clear that there was only one cause of the disease which he termed as “cadaveric contamination”. As soon as he revealed this theory to his senior, Johann Klein , it was refuted. The idea was radical and went against the medical zeitgeist at the time. Rather than carrying out experiments and publishing his findings, Semmelweis became entrenched in political battles with Klein. His battles with Klein almost resembled those of Thomas stockmann and Peter Stockmann in Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the people; where Thomas was the politically inept scientific genius battling Peter, a shrewd politician with clout and a knack for manipulation. Simmilweiz’s close friends urged him to write papers on the discovery, he would hear none. In fact he had an such an aversive attitude towards writing that would later cripple his career. Consequently Semmelweis lost his job , the medical community in Vienna turned against him. He subsequently left Vienna for Budapest where he got a job at the University of Pest. There too his seniors disbelieved his theory. As a last resort, the vexing swamp of skepticism compelled him to write the only report on his findings, Die Ätiologie, der Begriff und die Prophylaxis des Kindbettfieber (The Etiology, Concept, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever). Unfortunately it did not fully explain the logic behind his theory and attracted even more vehemence. Semmelweis’s behaviour grew aberrant and his wife thought he was insane, he would eventually die miserably from blood poisoning after incurring a gangrenous wound in 13th August 1865 at the age 47. It was several years later that Louis pasteur promulgated what we know today as the germ theory. A discovery that could largely be credited to Ignaz Semmelweis.


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Many a times we find ourselves in circumstances that command voicing suggestions or instituting executive decisions that may not settle well with our colleagues. Just like Semmelweis most of us choose the quick path of shoving instructions at subordinates if we happen to be in a position of power, or rebelling with a panache that borders tyranny if we are not. Yet others will altogether swallow back their reservations to avoid conflicts at all costs. Solving this classical problem commands that we understand the primary ways through which we generally gain influence. The first path to influence is power which often involves control of resources while the second path is status which derives from positive social judgements of others. Ignaz Semmelweis could only implement his findings in the ward that he had control over. His position at the ward gave him power. On the other hand convincing those beyond his reach of power would require that he earned status.Social psychologist Edwin Hollander formulated a an insightful process through which we earn status. He promulgated the concept of idiosyncrasy credits, the freedom to differ from a group’s expectations. Idiosyncrasy credits are earned whenever a person contributes towards a group’s goals. Subsequently, one earns enough idiosyncrasy credits to the point that deviating from the crowd expectations does not trigger any negative reactions. Had Semmelweis properly conducted experiments and formally published his findings, he would have earned credits that would have seen him earn status amongst his peers making them more receptive to his findings.

Likewise, it is always prudent to place yourself in positions that allow you to exercise your strengths. This way, you will be able to make contributions and consequently earn status among your peers. Semmelweis’s profession required him to carry out experiments and consequently publish research papers on his findings. Sadly, writing wasn’t his strength as he abhorred it to the core of his being. As a result he could not bring himself to influence his superiors and peers alike because the germ theory was too novel in that era. It smashed the expectations of those in the medical field which vastly rested on misinformed theories. He never earned enough idiosyncrasy credits to deviate from his colleagues’ expectations.


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As a manager, you will be tempted to use your powers on a frequent basis but this approach quickly breeds resentment and may hurt productivity in the long run. Instead you must coalesce the exercise of power with status building. In fact studies conducted by organizational behavior researcher Adam galinsky and colleagues have shown that individuals occupying high power roles with relatively low status end up having more conflicts with their colleagues in lower ranks. This in effect results into a vicious cycle where those with power frustrate those under them because of their resentment and vice versa escalating conflicts further. Thus you might want to earn the highest qualifications in your field or even occasionally take part in basic technical work as your juniors to demonstrate your capabilities as some executives do which yields massive respect in the long term. With hope that Einstein will not have been offended, we can safely conclude status without power is blind and power without status is lame.

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It’s true that in this life you can never do everything alone, even the heroes and achievers we watch and see, at some point they need someone else to assist them in some way. The question though is, how much help can you ask for before it becomes unacceptable? How much asking is too much?

My brother and his friend have this sort of mantra which goes like, ‘You can’t ask prezzo for a sleepover.’ I mean, however close you are to the president, it just wouldn’t be right whenever you are in town you call him for a place to sleep right? What then happens when you desperately need him to sponsor your new project or maybe need his support when you vie for some political seat after you’ve used all your infinite chances asking for petty things? So whenever they are stranded and are thinking of ways out, they’d remind themselves that they should only ask for help from someone when it is ABSOLUTELY necessary. Wise move should I say?

This got me thinking; this is something most of us do without actually thinking. You know like you could be having this friend who is always willing to help you with anything. So you just over-do it with the say, ‘we are friends right? They signed up for this.’ So you go all the way from sending them to buy you that dress you saw at the mall to requesting for airtime to asking for loans to requesting for endless favours. But what happens when you suddenly lose your money and have no fare to get you home? Or when you are terribly sick with no enough money for medication? By this time, your dear loyal friend is exhausted by your endless requests. Who then do you turn to? Let’s face it; there is only so much one can handle. They will tolerate you for as long as they can but some day they’ll just say it out loud, ‘I quit!’ And trust me, friends like these, you lose them and that’s it. No one likes being used let alone being OVER-USED.

It’s the same thing when you decide to ask for an advance at work but the advance is for you to buy some latest smartphone. Or when you use up all your off days for petty stuff like attending a birthday party. What then happens when you need a day to go for a mega interview?

Maybe we should really look at every chance we get to be golden. As golden as the three wishes of Aladdin. Maybe every time we want to ask for something from someone we should ask ourselves, ‘If I just had three chances to make a wish to this same person, would this still be important or necessary?’ If you check, the wise people, whenever someone tells them, ‘I owe you one’ they never quickly jump in to say, ‘Buy me pizza then’ or ‘Buy me this attire’ or ‘Take me to this place’. They say, ‘I’ll save that chance for a better day.’ Because yes, some chances and opportunities don’t come back twice.

By the way, i’m sure you’ve heard or even done this yourself. There may be a time where someone asked you for help and you quickly rush to assist them because, ‘He has never asked for a favour before. This seems to be something very important to him.’ Unlike someone who keeps running to you for everything, you wouldn’t take them THAT seriously would you?

So yes, don’t always let your friend be the one to pay for your dinner. Sometimes be the one to pay for theirs. Don’t always be quick to ask for favours at the slightest problem you face. Don’t take people for granted by how much help they offer you. Don’t use people however much they love you. Friendship, family or any other kind of bond, it has to be two-way. So help so that you can be helped too. But it should be within limits because yes, too much of anything is unhealthy and sometimes, annoying! Of course i’m not saying you shouldn’t ask for small favours, we all do that from time to time. The point is; just don’t make it a habit, extreme and overboard! Time for me and you to change…

Because yes! Every chance is golden!