I have always been fascinated by the subject of leadership because it is interesting, complex, and seems to be a complicated mix of both science and art. If you Google the word leadership, you get 4.1 billion hits. You will also find 346 million studies on the subject and more than 3.3 billion hits when searching for books on the topic. I must have had over 200 books in my personal library before our recent downsizing. (Not sure how many I retained after our move; I can tell you my wife thinks I still have too many.)
I don’t believe it possible to simply write a recipe, that if followed, will lead to the creation of an effective leader. (e.g. do these three things, say those four things and add a cup of this, act in this way, stir, then bake for five years under pressure.) Certainly following a recipe and including critical ingredients will help, but there is no guarantee it will work every time, in every situation, for every person.
I have known leaders who were larger than life, tougher than nails, and excessively demanding, yet were deeply respected and viewed as effective. I have also known people who exhibited the exact opposite behaviors; calm, quiet, soft-spoken and unassuming, yet they too were respected as effective leaders. I’m often amazed that such a wide range of contrasting styles and behaviors can yield equally effective results.
I believe leadership is mostly about moving people and/or organizations forward… into the future. It is about people; it is about the future and it is about change. As such, leaders must have a strategic mindset, always looking to the horizon, uniting and aligning people around a common vision in pursuit of a better set of circumstances.
At its core, leadership is about influence. Don’t be mistaken, people with the ability to influence have great power, it’s not just about their rank, title, position, muscle or brute force. How many ordinary people do you know who have changed churches, schools, neighborhoods, entire communities and companies without one single ounce of official authority? Think influence, not position-power or authority.
In his book The Optimism Advantage, Terry Paulson writes, “A professional who can’t transfer his/her gifts and skills into results that serve others won’t last in this competitive global economy.”
Influence tends to be more about the size of your character than the size of your office, the length of your title, or your position on an organizational chart. Influence resides at the intersection of right skills, right attitude and right motivation. Certainly, it would be possible to write an entire book on each of these components. In brief:
Right Motivation – Are your motivational and inner-most drivers self-centered and selfish in nature or, are you more ourwardly focused, and concerned, about the well-being of others in the world around you. People today are hyper-sensitive and on the lookout for others who are driven by selfish motivations and intentions. Any hint, or even the slight appearance of anything self-serving in nature, will instantly diminsh a person’s level of influence. A leader’s actions and behaviors must positively offset the natural, and often justified, cynisysm and suspicions so prevelent in our society today.
Right Attitude – Are you creating an atmosphere where a sense of hope, and a better future, can flourish, not simply survive. Do you radiate positive energy? Do your actions and behaviors create confidence and optimism, or gloom and doom. Most people want to be a part of something positive, something greater than themselves that will help others and make for a better world. This doesn’t mean that we ignore the ugly realities of the world we live in, it does mean we’re proactively trying to correct and make it better, even if by just a little bit.
Right Skills – At the top of a long list of interpersonal skills is our ability to connect with others and grow trusting relationships built upon mutual respect and understanding. We must be able to balance inquiry with advocacy, listening with speaking, demonstrating empathy and understanding while driving change and a restless disatisfaction with the status quo. Sometimes we must rock the boat while simultaneoulsly enlisting people to grab a bucket and start bailing water.
Bottom line, we must be able to demonstrate our intentions are noble and just; we are confident in our abilities to make things better; and, we have the skills to make a difference.
Motivation. Attitude. Skills. What will you work on this week? I’m choosing to work on my attitude. How about you? How will you live and lead differently, or better, this week?
Bonus Quotes Below.
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“Expanding Your Capacity for Success”
- “Never underestimate the influence you have on others.” – Laurie Buchanan
- “Influence is like a savings account, the less you use it, the more you’ve got.” – Andrew Young
- “One of the best ways to influence people is to make them feel important.” – Roy T. Bennett
- “The purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence.” – Rick Warren
- “Because everything we say and do is the length and shadow of our own souls, our influence is determined by the quality of our being.” – Dale Turner
- “You don’t have to be a ‘person of influence’ to be influential. In fact, the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they’ve taught me.” – Scott Adams
It is more important to influence people than to impress them. – Adrian Rogers