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Do you want to be powerful or influential?
By Joan Marques, MBA

Funny: the first two things that I checked when starting this article were the synonyms for powerful and influential, and, yes, they are on each other’ s list. But how could that be if we consider this story?

Mr. Dawson was the most powerful man at QRS, a company specialized in the development of quality research systems. He had been the president of the company for over 10 years. However, only a few of the top managers at QRS had ever seen him. The program developers, sales-people in the stores, and even the office managers had no clue what Mr. Dawson looked like. Some of them even believed the rumor that Mr. Dawson did not really exist. But no one really dared talking about it, because there were also whispers that some employees, who had joked about Mr. Dawson’s vague state of being, had been fired for undetermined reasons.

At the end of every year there was a season package for every employee ready on a display in the conference room. This package was given on top of the bonuses. However, the end-of-year celebrations, including the speeches and bonus check handout ceremonies were executed by the respective managers.

Mr. Dawson was powerful, indeed. "He is a billionaire," was what some of the people in the company said. And, although never seen, he seemed to have his ears everywhere in the organization, which inhibited employees to speak up freely about their ideas regarding this invisible man.

Samuel was one of the managers at QRS. He had worked at the company for 10 years, and never missed a day at work. At least, not without a very good reason. Like that one time when his mother passed away unexpectedly. Or the day that his wife gave birth to a stillborn child…

Everyone in the company liked Samuel, because he was open, caring, and empathetic. He could always be found on the work floor, where he had a kind word ready for everybody he met: not only his employees, but the ones that were not directly linked to his department as well. Samuel was in fact more of a mentor figure. People all through the organization would call him to ask his advice on issues that oftentimes were very personal.

Samuel’s department was the one at QRS where everyone wanted to work. There was a relaxed atmosphere in the office, and his staff seemed to have developed a wonderful sub-culture. There was trust and openness, and the Monday morning meetings were always held in a very pleasant ambiance. Sometimes even outside in the open air! Every week someone took care of the doughnuts that were literally inhaled during the sessions. There was a lot of humor, and the entire spirit was one of creativity-encouragement. Ideas were never discarded without team-contemplation, and his employees knew that if they brought something up, Samuel would go to the limit to get their point across. Now, he didn’t always succeed in getting all wishes granted, but no one held that against him, because they knew he tried.

Samuel was influential. His advice was important to many people throughout QRS. Not only professionally, but in private areas as well.

Then, five years ago, Samuel decided to start his own company in research systems and other computer software services. He planned to start small, and gave his notice according to the company rules. No one liked to see this wonderful man go. More striking: many of the very best employees at QRS started applying for jobs at Samuel’s new company.

Within 3 years the company had grown to a successful middle-sized organization, where suppliers, customers, and employees were all happy and content. The company could have been much larger, for there was enough interest from all sides, not in the least customers. But Samuel wanted to keep the family spirit in tact, and he realized that this would be harder if the company grew out of proportion. His conviction was, that the organization’s performance should not necessarily rest on moneymaking, but on excellent performance from a happy workforce. The company’s core purpose was, appropriately, “To accommodate America’s knowledge workforce by providing the highest quality in products and service through team-work, creativity, and trust.”

And QRS? That organization ultimately went out of business. After Samuel left, several other managers decided to either start their own businesses as well, or find a job in a work environment where it was much more fun. They all remembered the quote Samuel had engraved in a little plaque on his desk:” If you enjoy what you do, you never work a day in your life”- Lao Tzu.

To all workers, QRS had served its purpose as a stepping-stone in their career, but the lack of personal approach and the coercive atmosphere ultimately drove the best workers away.

The powerful Mr. Dawson remained wealthy for the rest of his vague days, although his power could be questioned on the long run, and the influential Samuel is still going strong in the market of computer research software. So much for synonyms…

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Burbank, California; March 11, 2003; Joan Marques, MBA, Doctoral Student (URL: http://www.joanmarques.com)

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