What is the Influence Line? A Stanford GSB alum explains.

Influence Line Stanford

Stanford Graduate School of Business alum Maria Lambert, MBA ’12, recently discussed the foundational idea of an “Influence Line“—an exercise in which one judge’s themselves against their peers, finding out who among themselves are the most influential compared to the others. It’s an uncomfortable process, but one, Lambert believes, can break huge barriers in producing positive feedback.

In a recent Quartz Work article, Lambert explains that the process of privately ranking peers is something we do constantly—subconsciously or not—but to make that list public requires that we reveal our “true beliefs and own our choices.” As she explains in the article, “to fully know ourselves, we need to know how we’re perceived. And that requires a rare type of honest, in-the-moment feedback that … the Influence Line is designed to elicit.”

The Influence Line exercise also elicits a great deal of internal conflict, as Lambert notes, but it doesn’t end with rankings, which is simply “the catalyst for eliciting unspoken feedback and emotions.” At Stanford, Lambert explained that her group “spent the next several sessions honestly discussing what came up for us during the exercise,” which revealed how much Lambert had left unsaid.

As brutal as the exercise can be, its efficacy has been proven. Lambert devised a “gentler” version of the Influence Line thought experiment for leaders:

  1. Select 5 to 12 people from your organization or network.
  2. Rank everyone—including you—from ascending to descending influence and explain each ranking.
  3. Reflect. What themes emerge?
  4. Identify unspoken feedback
  5. Evaluate yourself. Which assumptions support your perceived level of influence?

Lambert offers a few concluding words: “Sharing feedback is not easy; asking for feedback is usually harder. Yet, our growth as leaders comes from uncovering our blind spots, and then with kindness helping others to do the same. Learning comes from stepping out of our comfort zones.”


About the Author

Jonathan Pfeffer
Jonathan Pfeffer

Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as contributing writer at MetroMBA and contributing editor at Clear Admit, he is co-founder and lead producer of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.

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