Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

Insights from the Inside: What it Takes to Live in the Sweet Spot

This post is part of a series providing a road map for real world operational management of non-profits and social enterprises. The author, Gene Miller, has held a variety of high-stakes leadership positions in diverse industries through crisis periods and great successes. This series shares her results-based approach, presenting practical guides for how to get things done. She can be reached at

Sweet Spot

The ability to impact and influence the world around us is at the heart of making it happen. In fact if you look back at the posts from Insights From The Inside, almost all have to do with what can be categorized as, strategic influence. Sure there are many desired qualities for those who get it done, like the ability to set priorities, clear written and oral communications, strategic thinking, managerial skills, and so forth. But it is the ability to transform desired objectives into behavior responses is what moves mountains, and the good news is that much of this can be an acquired habit.

One of my favorite expressions is, “you won’t believe what people will tell you if you only ask”. This goes for peers, boards, bosses, funders, staff and even competitors. It is important to understand the perspectives of those you seek to impact no matter whether they are above, beside and below you. And since it is incredibly helpful to know what is on the minds of others, if you ask broadly and listen deeply, you then have a relevant context for the discussions. (And besides, for me it’s never a waste of time as I invariably learn something in the process.) As a result of all of this, your ability to exert strategic influence is greatly magnified if its underpinnings are tied to effective listening. That’s right, listening.

To reinforce the point, let’s examine the fundamental principles of accomplishing a number of different business objectives:

Making the sale Decipher what your client needs and values
Successful negotiation Understand the other party’s position
Effective public speaking Know your audience
Great new hires Ascertain the personal qualities you seek
Raising $$$ Engage funders in advance of an ask
Building your board Capitalize on their enlightened self interest


Note the common threads as to what it takes: the element of effective listening to understand perspectives. The over arching goal is to be perceptive and receptive to the needs of others as it provides the platform for win win discussions around what you want to achieve, not just from your vantage point but also from that of others. Even if they do not concur with your thinking, having been heard usually leads to buy in because people appreciate being acknowledged and heard.

Just as the folks at Babson will tell you entrepreneurial thinking can be taught, so too can exerting strategic influence be an acquired habit. Here is a game plan: make use of webinars, books and training on all forms of influence. For me personally one of the most impactful learnings resulted from participating in a negotiations seminar with one of the all time greats, Herb Cohen. I recently re-read his book and was reminded how much his philosophies are with me still to this day. But it doesn’t have to be Herb or even negotiations. It’s all about a perceptive approach to make impact. So sharpen the saw and then practice focusing and framing your discussions around the perspectives of others. You see it’s the human element that ultimately carries the day and is what let’s you live in the sweet spot. I have found the more one approaches great challenges from this vantage, the easier it is to move mountains.

TACTICAL TAKEAWAY: Building life long impactful habits such as effective listening is central to those who change the status quo. Being perceptive and receptive to others is one terrific platform for exerting strategic influence.