Reader Question: How Do You Know When You Have Clout?

READER QUESTION: How do you know when you have clout?

THE REAL BETSY SAYS… Once upon a time, I had a certain job. The job was fine. Most of the people were nice. Or at least, they were nicer more days than they were not. In certain places, that’s really all you can hope for. At this certain place, there was a certain executive who had a little bit of what I will call “an occupation with self-aggrandizement.” On a scale of 1-10, he fancied himself a 15. He felt he was better than all the rest of us. Not just better…. he acted as though he owned us and that we were just lucky to be in his very presence. He carried himself as such and he was not afraid to let us all know that not only better, smarter, and more successful than us, but also that the rules that applied to us lowly minions, did not apply to him. Also, he was better than most of us because he was of the XY Chromosome group and we were born lowly XX Chromosome people. A lovely person, right? Not so much. Bless his heart.

As normal minion type people sometimes do, I (GASP!) made a mistake (GASP!) and said person, let’s call him Mr. Benz, took it upon himself to school me in the ways of this crazy ol’ world. I’ll never forget how he regaled me with his faux-wisdom. One phrase from this oh-so-helpful lecture was something like “Betsy, some day you might have clout. I can’t tell you how to get it but when you have it, you’ll know it.” I don’t think that’s EXACTLY what he said, (after all I’ve made a conscious decision to forget most things about him) but that was the sentiment…”SOME DAY” I “MIGHT” be somebody important. (Like him, I suppose.) He can’t tell me how to be so AWESOME (again, like him?) but “SOME DAY” when and “IF” I somehow miraculously managed to acquire said “CLOUT,” I will know it. Since then, clout has not only been one of my least favorite words in the English lexicon, but it has also been something after which I have NOT chased, for fear of becoming anything like the glorious Mr. Benz. Bless his heart.

So, the question today from a dear reader is how a person would know when he or she had clout. I’m assuming that my reader agrees that yes, even we lowly women, can acquire clout.

Look, I’ve been around a lot of people. I’ve sat next to governmental leaders, millionaires, business owners and authors. I have talked to people who didn’t have two dollars to their name and people whose names you wouldn’t even have to Google. And you know what? I’ve learned a lot about clout. Interestingly, like Mr. Benz said, it’s hard to tell somebody how to get it or tell somebody what it is, but unlike what Mr. Benz said, I think it’s easy to tell somebody how NOT to get it and what it is NOT about.

Clout does not involve putting employees to shame. It does not involve embarrassing people and kicking them when they’re already down. It does not involve making people feel inferior. It does not involve holding yourself to be higher than every single person no matter where you go and expecting to be treated as such. You do not acquire clout by insisting that you are a leader. You do not acquire clout with money, titles, degrees, or vehicles. Clout does not involve hardwood floors or marble counters. Clout isn’t related to your bank account or your daddy’s or wife’s last name. It is not acquired when your daughter or son marries somebody famous. You do not acquire clout when you write a best-seller or when you win a big case. Clout isn’t bestowed upon you like some Grecian laurel crown, when you earn your degree, the corner office, or the company car.

You see, clout, “REAL” clout is that quiet power and influence that few possess. Ironically, clout is most often found in those who don’t concern themselves with the pursuit of such. It’s washing the feet of the poor, tending to the homeless and aged, and being humane to God’s creatures. It’s gained by sincerely thanking employees, especially the cleaning staff. It’s gained by walking the walk, not just talking it. It’s showing up when it would be easier to hide. It’s saying you’re wrong. It’s saying you’re sorry. It’s saying you’re not always right. It’s taking the mic when you could easily have your PR rep take the blame. Clout is gained by humbling oneself. It’s gained by working hard, by being true to your morals and values, and by being faithful to your spouse, your family, and your integrity. Clout is gained in time of tough decision. It’s putting people over profits. It’s sitting at the bedside of a sick employee, instead of being a keynote speaker. It’s being a person on whom people can rely. It’s telling the truth. It’s being consistent. It’s forgiving, with grace. It’s mentoring younger people. It’s stopping on the side of the road to rescue a turtle from traffic. It’s the old cliché “who you are when nobody is looking.”

In this world, there will be those who value influence and clout by amounts of money, degrees, or fame. However, I think we can all agree that if we look at the people in our lives, the qualities of the people who have influenced us the most have ZERO to do with money, degrees, or fame.

My grandfather, who grew up dirt poor and has an 8th grade education has more REAL clout in his home town than Mr. Benz will ever even dream of having. My grandfather would be too humble to even acknowledge that. When I think of people who carry real CLOUT in my eyes, I think of servant leaders and teachers like Patti McKelvey, Alice Ackley, and Corky Vann who took time and got involved when they didn’t have to. I think of spiritual giants who don’t even have college degrees. I think of those people who “show up” when things are hard. I think of people who know how to sit with you in silence, even when things get awkward. I think of a certain business owner who serves his employees and who gives away almost everything he makes. When I think about clout and influence, I don’t think about their bank accounts. I don’t think about their education. I don’t think about their cars or their houses. I think about their hearts.

We all have people like that in our lives, or I hope you do.

So, reader, I’m afraid I can’t tell you how a person knows when he or she has clout. It’s not for me to judge and it’s not for me to worry about when or even IF I will attain clout. What I should busy myself with is the service to and the love of my fellow man, the pursuit of excellence, and being true to my values and to my God. If that gives me clout in the eyes of the world, that would be awfully nice, but if that day never comes, I’ll have to settle for just knowing that I made the world a better place. To me, that just seems a whole lot better than having a nice car.

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