If you want to influence others you need a big heart – or no heart at all. (Episode 91)

If you want to influence others you need a big heart – or no heart at all. (Episode 91)

Interview with Morten Dyrholm, Group Senior Vice President, Marketing, Communications, Sustainability and Public Affairs at Vestas Wind Systems.

Lobbyists are frequently seen as some of the most cold-hearted people in business. Their job is often described to be about manipulating politicians and deceiving the public.

Say “lobbyist” and the picture of an egoistical sociopath frequently comes into the mind of many people. (The satirical movie “Thank You For Smoking, plays on this picture.)

And it’s true: some of the world’s best lobbyists are people who could sell their souls to the devil to get someone else to give them what they want. But it is equally true that the very best lobbyists in the world are people with an abundance of empathy and care for other people. They are people with very big hearts.

Morten Dyrholm, Group Senior Vice President, Marketing, Communications, Sustainability and Public Affairs at world leading wind turbine company Vestas Wind Systems is one of these big hearted lobbyists, and I recently had the privilege to sit down and talk to him about how lobbyists use creativity in their job.

Let me give you two concrete examples of how Morten works.

1) The Old Man and the Wind

A few years ago China had started its focus on aggressively supporting domestic wind turbine producers. And while Vestas, at this time, already had been in China for over 25 years the company needed to build more Guanxi with the people of the Ministry of Energy.

Morten learned that one of Vesta’s first customers in China still had his two wind turbines on his farm, but that they had stopped working. Morten understood that it would be much better to have an old Chinese farmer lobbying for Vestas than a Dane. But to get the farmer to agree to lobby for why Vestas should be seen as an essential player in building China’s energy infrastructure Morten put himself in the farmer’s shoes. While the farmer had been a very happy and loyal customer, the 25 year old wind turbines had stopped working due to a lack of spare parts. The equipment was so old that there were no spare parts in China anymore and they had even been discontinued in the Danish production.

But it was important to get the wind turbines spinning again.

So Morten flew (!) back to Denmark and got in contact with old retired (!) Vestas employees to see if any of them, by any chance, would have some extra spare parts lying around in their homes. And he got lucky! His scavenger hunt was a success as he was able to find the right spare parts. Before the important meeting Morten had his team come out to the old Chinese man’s farm and got the turbines working again. The man was, in the words of Morten Dyrholm, “overwhelmed with joy!”

When Morten then brought the farmer to the meeting the old Chinese man became all emotional and even started to cry when he told the bureaucrats about how his two wind turbines had transformed his simple farming life back in the day.

A lobbyist going on a global scavenger hunt in the drawers of old employees just to make a loyal customer happy is big-heart-lobbying.

2) The lobbyist on his knees.

For the second example of big-heart-lobbying we have to go to Kenya. A few years ago Vestas was involved in helping to build the Lake Turkana wind farm, which would become the largest wind park in Africa with a production of 310MW.

The wind park is now a huge success and is producing 17% (!) of Kenya’s energy needs, but at one point the whole project was in danger. Vestas needed regulatory approval but even if the right government bodies were positive to the project, the bill never seemed to make it to the floor of the parliament.

When Morten went down to the government office that handles which bills get presented to the floor at a specific point in time he walked into an office of an understaffed and underfunded office that still worked with paper folders. Morten told me: “This poor guy was sitting in an office with folders everywhere; on the floor, the shelves, the desk. Folders everywhere!”

It turned out that the public servant would love to send the Vestas bill to the floor, but there was just one problem: He could not find it! It was lost in the sea of folders in his office.

So Morten offered to help!

Together with the man Morten got down on the floor and started digging through mountains of folders.

Finally: success!

The correct folder was found and sent to the floor which approved it and the project could continue.

Just because a lobbyist decided to – literally – get down on his knees.

Yes, cold-hearted or no-hearted lobbyists will use bribes, threats and other unethical behavior to get people to do what they want them to do. But big-hearted-lobbyists, like Morten, genuinely want to help.

Morten has met hundreds of lobbyists during his long career and he states that the very best lobbyists have a high level of EQ. Or as he told me, “Empathy is the number skill for being a good lobbyist.”

Lobbying is, in essence, about you getting what you want by understanding what the people who can help you get that would like to have themselves. To understand that you need empathy. But you also need a willingness to go out of your way to make that happen.

If you want someone else to do something for you, then take a page from the lobbying playbook and sit down and focus – not on what you want – but what the person who can help you get what you want would like to have.

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