Updated: Aug 2, 2019
The unknown politician’s breakthrough
In July 2004 John Kerry was in the middle of his presidential campaign against George W Bush. He needed someone to give the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. They decided they needed someone youthful, eloquent, an African American and someone with a positive message. They chose an almost unknown Senator from Illinois to give the speech. This launched Barack Obama’s political career, made him known to Americans and he gained acceptance into the political inner circle.
But how did Barack get selected to make the speech? Well it wasn’t luck but a well-crafted strategy.
Barack Obama and John Kerry had met twice before during his presidential campaign and they had “hit it off”. People watching the two men noticed that John Kerry was actually picking up tricks from the much younger man.
Barack’s team also campaigned to do the keynote presentation. His team put together an eight-minute video set to music and featuring Muhammed Ali that they sent to John Kerry’s team. They employed a former John Kerry campaign staffer who phoned his former colleagues positioning Barack. They also researched past keynote speakers and recognised the importance the speech had on their careers.
Once Obama was selected he spent weeks writing the speech. His senate work would generally end at 9pm or 10pm and then he would write his speech until 2am. The day before the democratic convention Barack practiced for three hours at the venue. It is said that the first few deliveries of his 17 minute speech weren’t particularly strong but that he soon got into his groove, people became awestruck at his passion and charisma.
He then stepped up and delivered the speech that would change his life.
Inner circles are everywhere
I have realised that within every organisation, or grouping of people, there is an inner circle. If you would like to rise up the ranks within a company then the inner circle needs to accept and promote you. If you aspire to be a paid speaker then there is a group of influential people who need to give you their approval. Even religious organisations contain a group of people that act as the inner circle.
There could also be tiers of inner circles, for example, during a person’s career within a company they will have to rise up, and get accepted by, multiple ever more powerful inner circles.
How to gain acceptance to the inner circle?
I am convinced that Seth Godin’s theory on Attention and Trust is true. If you would like access to an inner circle then the people within will need to trust you. To earn their trust you first have to gain their attention. Attention is a rare commodity because people give almost all their attention to their own activities. This is particularly true if the person is someone senior and part of the inner circle you want to break into. Just like Barack Obama did with John Kerry, you will need to have a well thought out strategy to get their attention.
If you gain their attention – in a positive way – then they will allocate a portion of trust into your “account”. Once your trust account gets to the right level, possibly with everyone in the circle, then you will gain acceptance.
The Attention/Trust Flywheel
Jim Collins introduced the Flywheel concept in his books “Good to Great” and recently “Turning the Flywheel”. I believe it is the key to business and personal success. To read a summary of how the Flywheel Effect works then read my blog “The Amazing Flywheel Effect”.
The good news is that Attention and Trust are also a Flywheel loop. Once people in the inner circle notice you positively (you gain their attention), then they will allocate some trust in you. They will then be aware of you and it will be easier to get their attention. This will lead to more trust being placed in you. The idea is that this will escalate until the breakthrough moment happens and you are accepted into the inner circle.
Once Barack had gained the attention of the pollical community after his speech he still continued to work on gaining more of their attention and trust.
Getting the Attention/Trust Flywheel started?
Seth Godin also has a suggestion here. Generosity. He suggests that the best way of getting someone’s attention is to do something generous for them. We need to creatively think what will add value to the people we are trying to influence.Generosity is a key to first getting their attention and then building the momentum of the Attention/Trust Flywheel.
When Barack identified that he wanted to do the keynote address, he put together the 8 minute video clip and I am sure he specifically communicated to John Kerry how he could assist him in his campaign to be president. This helped to get John Kerry’s attention leading to the keynote address.
Inner circle action plan
I would suggest the following steps as we break into our respective inner circles.
Objectives: Take time to think through your objectives. What do you want to achieve in five years’ time? How do you want to deliver value?
Inner circles: What inner circles exist that you need to gain access to?
Identify the people: Who are the individuals that make up these inner circles?
Gain their attention:This is the most important step.Write down the names of the individuals and identify how you can gain their attention. What do you know about them? Is there a way that you can use generosity to attract their attention? I am on a journey with you here and I would appreciate any tips you can give and what has worked for you.In other words, be generous to me by sharing your advice :).
Gaining access to our respective inner circles is vital to meeting our goals. Acceptance to these inner circles is achieved by gaining people’s attention and trust. Attention is initially won by well thought through generous acts towards targeted individuals.
Barack Obama broke through to his inner circle, which eventually led him to becoming president. Do we have a well thought out strategy to gain access to your inner circle?
As always, your comments and thoughts are always welcome. You can add a comment directly to this blog or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog represents my views and not the views of the company I work for.