“from the mouths of babes” Power and Influence part 2

I was going to use Part 2 of this post to discuss influence and young women but a dinner with my mum and her current home stay student from China has changed my mind.

Tim, the student, has become involved with a church here in Melbourne since arriving and has been enjoying the challenge of listening to English and interpreting what he hears. One of the stories he heard during the service on Sunday was about the importance of every individual. As far as I could gather, the story went, that;

A university professor set a test to his students for which they had to receive 100% to pass. When the results came through, not one of the students had successfully answered all the questions. It was revealed that the final question on the test was “what is the name of the cleaner”, which no one was able to answer correctly.

My mum explained to Tim that this was in reference to Jesus’ teachings that every individual was important, from the most conspicuous (the professor) to the least conspicuous (the cleaner). This reminded me of my discussions with young women of power and influence so I started to talk to Tim about my lessons, which proved to be an excellent opportunity to clarify my own thoughts (as trying to explain something complex to someone whose first language is not English sometimes is).

I started by trying to explain simply, what the difference between power and influence is. Certainly my students struggle with this and I can also have difficulty in giving them a plain English explanation.

The dictionary says:


1. ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something.

2. political or national strength: the balance of power in europe.

3. great or marked ability to do or act; strength; might; force.

–verb (used with object)

22. to give power  to; make powerful: An outstandingquarterback powered the team in its upset victory.
23. to inspire; spur; sustain:
SO, power is strength, autonomy, decision making, control.
Influence on the other hand is defined as:


the capacity or power of persons or things to be acompelling force on or produce effects on
the actions,behavior, opinions, etc., of others: He used family influence to get the contract.

the action or process of producing effects on the actions,behavior, opinions, etc., of another
or others: Her mother’s influence made her stay.

a person or thing that exerts influence: He is an influence for the good.
–verb (used with object)


to exercise influence on; affect; sway: to influence a person.

to move or impel (a person) to some action: Outside factors influenced her to resign.
So I related this to Tim as POWER is change, control, force etc and INFLUENCE is more subtle, associated with like/interest. Or in simple terms parents have power over their children: can enforce curfews, rules, expectations but also have influence: demonstrate values, ethics and behaviour.
So in this context. Who has more power and who has more influence between the professor and the cleaner?
In my discussion the cleaner actually had more power: she/he could not clean, create an unhygenic university and create disease and/or health and there for had more actual force or ability to make change, whereas the professor had more influence: was able to change the students minds and thoughts, could potentially change the focus of future generations but had to envoke interest and like to do so.
SO, while sometimes I have POWER over my students (can make them come to class, sit still, engage) I would rather have INFLUENCE (create change in their lives/minds and be remembered as a pivotal influence in their lives).
So, if I had a choice between having power or influence over my students which would I prefer?
Easy, influence every single day.
See, if I have influence then my impact on them lasts through the years, they may appear not to be listening, maybe we only get through half the content I want to, perhaps I leave frustrated that they weren’t listening, wouldn’t shut up or seemed to be entirely uninterested. And maybe they were, but if I’ve had some level of influence, even just the slightest, then I’ve made a difference. Keeping them quiet and attentive appears to be the greatest achievement, but they’re still not necessarily listening on the inside. Being influential on the other hand requires creativity, perseverence, trial and error, sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail miserably and most of the time we have no concept of which occured but if we do have success, even just the slightest, tiniest influence, we’ve made far more difference than any great power ever will.
I recently made contact with someone who went to the same school as me, a year below. Her mum happened to be my year 12 English teacher and was potentially one of the most influential teachers of my life. The thrill that I got realising that I may have made contact with her through her daughter was incredible. Her influence remains a part of my life and I could easily attribute some of my life success on her guidance, support and belief in my potential. I may only spend a few hours over a few weeks with my clients, and if I have even 1/100th of the influence over their lives as my final year English teacher I’ll consider myself a HUGE success.
Photo used under Creative Commons license, taken from Flickr user PaDumBumPsh

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