Given the betrayals we have experienced in our lifetimes–betrayals that are a normal part of the maturation process but also betrayals by global, national, and organiza-tional figures–it is little wonder the average person is imbued with a healthy skepticism by the time he or she enters the workforce. Once there, the individual is again subjected to trust-erosion as one new alphabet-soup program replaces another, as waves of downsizing wash over the workforce while corporate profits and CEO salaries appear safe, riding the crests of those waves. So distrustful have employees become about the security of their own positions that wry commentaries such as these have evolved: “Optimists bring their lunches to work; pessimists leave the car running in the parking lot.”

The cynicism has not gone unnoticed by those responsible for making the very decisions that cause trust to be eroded. Soul-searching is becoming as critical an issue as strategy and profitability in many corporate camps. We see leaders, such as Kevin Johnson, Starbucks’ CEO, reflecting concern and social responsibility for the welfare of their workers and for the community at large as well.


Responsibility extends to the environment as well. But, caring about the environment and doing something about the environment are two different things. Without evidence of the latter, the former may seem like sound without substance. Believing that you have a social responsibility and acting in socially responsible ways are two sides of the same coin. If regarded as two separate coins, a distance can develop between buyer and seller, speaker and listener, manager and employee.

The business leader of today, many would agree, is seldom regarded as a “compassionate soul.” Consequently, trust is not the coin of most business realms. Today’s employees, it seems, are more wary than ever of placing too much faith in governing bodies or organizational bureau- cracies. According to corporate trainer Linda Edison of Oneonta, New York, it’s important for leaders–especially those who have chosen or who are chosen to influence others–to let hindsight become foresight for the future, to ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated in the future. She cites the phrase “going postal” as an extreme example of what can happen when working conditions create more stress than security. Violence, she observes, has become for some the raft to which the shipwrecked mind clings.


If the organization is not offering security, employees may have to establish their own. Experts like author Charles Handy encourage employees to become “portfolio people,” moving as hired heads from project to project, company to company, creating their own security in the process. Portfolio people trust themselves to take care of themselves; they no longer depend on womb-to-tomb employment. They gravitate toward placing faith in themselves instead, making a difference in their own professional lives before worrying about the differences to be made in the corporation’s life. Self- or company-motivated, though, we need trusting relationships. Without them, influence cannot be exerted and differences cannot be made.

Trusting relationships are predicated on several factors. It was journalist Edward R. Murrow who observed, “To be persuasive, we must be believable; to be believable, we must be credible; to be credible, we must be truthful.” In and of themselves, neither persuasion nor credibility nor truth will ensure that trust will be built. But each of these elements is an important part of the ethical formula for influencing others. Failing to apply the formula accurately and patiently means failing to make a difference.


Numerous reasons prompt people to make a difference in the world, or at least in their small corner of it. For some, difference-making is part of their family history. For others, it may be the result of a religious influence. For others still, it may be the awareness that it’s time to give something back, to leave the world a slightly better place for their having lived in it. Surveys repeatedly find the ability to make a difference tops the list of job rewards. 

What difference would you like to make–in your life, in someone else’s life, in the organization for which you work, in the circles in which you travel? Asking this question is the starting point for influence-projects that have both impact and integrity.

Think of a new influence-project you would like to explore, one you’ve not listed in preceding chapters. Begin by noting here some way in which you would like to make a difference–for the organization that employs you, for the community in which you live, for the people who constitute your nuclear and your extended family, for the associations of which you are a member, for those who are less fortunate than you–the possibilities are unlimited.

What is driving this interest? Exactly why have you chosen this difference as the one you are most committed to making?

Whom would you have to influence in order to ensure this project is carried out effectively and successfully?

(We’ll regard you as the leader of this project, and those whom you must directly or indirectly influence as your team.)

Whatever the rationale that is prompting you to have an impact on others, whatever your position inside or out-side an organizational structure, it will be difficult if not impossible to make a difference without being able to influence; and difficult if not impossible to influence without earning trust.


  • Dr. Marlene Caroselli is the author of 60+ books, the most recent of which ("Applying Mr. Einstein") will be released by HRD Press in 2020. You can reach her at [email protected].