Planes and Ships and You – Influence Made Easy

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The sound of tires spinning on ice preceded my alarm by five minutes. Outside, about a hundred yards from my bedroom window, my neighbor was unable to fully back his BMW out onto the street.

Wikipedia: “Trim tabs are small surfaces connected to the trailing edge of a larger control surface on a boat or aircraft, used to control the trim of the controls…”
How can you and I be like a trim-tab?

Once he backed a few feet onto the road, the car started sliding backward on the pavement’s slight decline. At this point he applied his brakes to keep from sliding any further backward into a car parked on the street behind him.

His sedan had not gone far enough back to be able to turn hard left and clear his mailbox to then make his way down the street. So now his rear tires spinning, he was unable to get himself back into the safety of his own driveway. He was stuck.

I quickly donned a t-shirt, jeans, and a pair of rubber-soled loafers. And I grabbed a pair of gloves as I hurried out without a coat, figuring this would be quick.

Getting to the back of the silver luxury sedan, I started pushing. Instantly, the car began moving forward. Even though my effort was miniscule relative to the power under the hood, the torque being applied to the wheels at the right moment, along with what little the grip the tires had at that moment, the push was still, nonetheless, just enough to positively change the dynamic of the situation.

In spite of the knowledge that my contribution was a tiny part of what had moved the over two tons of steel, plastic, and leather, I still smiled at the fleeting sense of super human strength. Look what I did!  Of course, I kept that thought to myself when my neighbor got out of his car and thanked me for the extra push.

He said that now that he had made it back into the driveway, he had pretty much decided not to go out that day. I said, “Really? If you back out again, I’m pretty sure that this time I can help slide the rear to the right as you back up and then give you a push once you’re facing the right way out on the street.”

“Think so?”


“Okay. Let’s do it.” He got back behind the wheel and started backing out again. It worked flawlessly. His window came down and he waved and yelled his thanks as he drove off.

The whole thing reminded me of the significant role played by the trim-tab; a relatively small part of the rudder on large ships and on the tail of airplanes.

Essentially, a trim tab is a little rudder for the big rudder. Without assistance of some kind, the enormous rudders on massive sea-going vessels are too big and heavy to be moved against the current as a ship moves forward through the water. And so when the pilot needs to turn the boat, the rudder gets a little help in the form of the trim tab.

When the relatively small trim tab is turned, it doesn’t move the ship (it isn’s big enough to do so); it moves the rudder by creating just enough vacuum to force the rudder in the opposite direction the trim-tab is pulled. The trim-tab turns the rudder, which, in turn, turns the ship.

In life, we can play the role of a trim tab wherever we are, no matter our official position.

Another word for all this is Influence.

You do not have to be the boss in order to exert influence at the workplace. There are small ways even the most junior employee can quietly become an indispensable force for positivity and forward-movement at virtually any place of work.

Likewise, we can strive to become a trim-tab in the various roles we play in the other areas of our lives.

The point is that the little, seemingly inconsequential things in life – especially when they are actions that are intentional, purposeful, and targeted – can make a tremendous positive difference.

    • Being the person who becomes known as the one who says Thank You and frequently expresses gratitude
    • A hand-written note or a card that says “I appreciate you.”
    • Being the person that habitually notices what is right and praises it (praise what you like and you’ll get more of it — you’ll also get more of what you complain about — So, what do you want more of?)
    • You discover that the boss is considering taking the business in a certain direction, so you take the initiative to study up on that topic and write a short report about what you found and discreetly place it on his/her desk
    • Being the person who can be counted on to respectfully ask one or two well-researched, tough, but relevant questions in staff meetings

By doing what you can do, and doing it on the outside borders of your circle of influence and not necessarily within your assigned duties, you will gradually expand both. It not only creates job security, being a person of ever-increasing influence may make you seemingly super human.


For more on the topic of being a person of influence (greatness), read The 8th Habit by Dr. Stephen Covey

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