The value of a meeting is sometimes measured by the side-conversations that accompany it. The quality of a speaker’s talk might be assessed by the number of questions it inspires. The interest in a particular blog post could be gauged by the number of comments that follow it. But what if there are no conversations, no questions, and no comments? Was the meeting a waste of time? Did the speaker fail to inspire? Was the blog post merely wasted thoughts?

I thoroughly enjoy engaging with others on topics of mutual interest. I love learning through other people’s experiences, as well as sharing my personal opinions, observations, and insights openly and freely. I hope it is obvious that I am far more interested in having a conversation than I am in simplex transmission. There are times when a meeting concludes without conversation. There are times when I give a presentation and there are no questions. And as you can see from the feedback on most of my posts, there is seldom a comment.

Leaders have meetings to communicate our priorities, speakers give talks to share our ideas, and writers use words to influence and/or entertain. The transmission may be simplex or it may be omnidirectional and that need not matter. The objective is to transmit in such a way that the message is received. As validating as a return message might be, a lack of response should not give us reason to question the communiqué. Of late, I have come to appreciate the “Power of the Lurker.”  A lurker is someone who does not actively participate in a community but does actively observe. A lurker is your Facebook friend who is intimately aware of your life adventure, yet never shares a thing. She might also be a coworker who sits in the back of the room and never speaks up. Lurkers are consumers of information who choose not to produce their own content. I have been reminded of late that their lack of overt reciprocity should not lead us to believe that they are not listening, interested, or appreciative.

Since arriving at my new duty station, I have been amazed by the number of lurkers who have made me aware of their presence. It is nice to know that there are conversations about some of the writings, spoken words, and side projects with which I have been involved to varying degrees over the years. The things we did (and do) simply because we thought they were important, fun, and would help us grow are likely influencing more people than we realize. In this hyper connected world, it is amazing what one can influence just by putting “it” out there. Those of us who choose to lead through influence and example may not be privy to the conversation, but we must acknowledge that one is happening. As I recently shared with one of my leaders, many of us are lurking and though some of us choose to participate in the conversation, all of us are following the conversation. And in the absence of a conversation follow, others are left to create their own personal narrative, which is not necessarily a constructive one. The more we share, the more we influence, and the more capable our team is to lead WITH us.

Leadership is all about influence. Influence requires no positional platform, but it does require a platform. What’s your platform? How are you using it to influence? How are you engaging the lurkers?

I will freely admit that I am not interested in the size of the audience, but I do appreciate the fact that there is one. It need not matter if our audience is two or 200,000, and positive confirmation of our transmission isn’t what drives us. One who is committed to leading through influence is both interested in communicating with an audience and allowing the audience to identify itself over time. Members of the audience may self-identify by sharing deeper conversations on the subject, they may simply acknowledge that they are onboard, or they may say nothing and simply make it clear through their action that they are part of the coalition. If we truly are in tune with the team we are attempting to lead, we know who is truly listening, we know who we are influencing, and we know the key players WITH whom we are leading…lurker or not.

  • Are you a lurker?
  • Are you aware of your lurkers?
  • How are you influencing them?

Note: This whole thought was inspired by a conversation shared with a valued Shipmate who self-identified, shared evidence of cascading communications some of my work was inspiring and made it clear that silence on the net did not mean people weren’t listening.  I love learning with, from, and through my juniors.