What do John Maxwell, Michael Hyatt, Colin Powell have in common?
You got it. They are considered experts in the realm of leadership. Leadership is a popular topic online and in written media.
John Maxwell has made a terrific living writing book after book after book on leadership.
Search “leader” on Twitter and you’ll come up with hundreds of users talking about leadership. Do the same thing in Google and you’ll discover 958 million results.
Wow…leadership is popular.
What is Leadership?
Each person on Twitter talking about leadership will have a different viewpoint. Each author approaches it from a different angle.
If there are so many viewpoints and angles from which to approach leadership, is there a way to simplify what leadership truly is? What is leadership?
Leadership is influence.
Yes, it is that simple. One word describes leadership…influence.
Influence for what?
While you can simplify leadership into just this one word, what does influence mean? What do leaders influence others to do?
For the remainder of this article, we’re going to explore how leaders influence others. In the vein of leadership, we could probably list 100 ways a leader can influence someone. However, we’re going to look at what I consider to be the most important.
Leadership is Influence to Change
Most people fear change. Just the word change sparks emotional resistance in our minds. We view change as difficult. We believe change means we’ve done things wrong in the past so we’re changing to correct the past wrongs.
Change is a leadership decision. Change has to be forced. “Wait,” you might say, “I’ve changed in the past and wasn’t forced by anyone.”
You may think you weren’t forced but you were. You made the leadership decision to change. You forced you. You influenced yourself to change.
No one will change until the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same.
A leader’s duty, when it comes to change, is to make the pain of change less. It’s to express the benefits of the change, what will be gained by the change.
Let’s look at an example of a leader influencing change.
During my years in public accounting, I’ve got to witness and work with several financial institutions who have been bought or sold. In most cases, the acquiring institution exerts its influence on the newly purchased institution.
Very rarely does a company get purchased and is allowed to operate as in the past. The leadership of the acquiring institution purchased it with goals of changing it to be even better; to increase productivity, efficiency and earnings.
Most importantly in a business acquisition, is the difference in cultures between the two organizations. The leadership of the acquiring organization will want to influence the newly integrated organization into its culture.
Sometimes the change in culture is much-needed, and even desired, by the employees of the acquired institution. In many instances, however, it’s not wanted. A change in culture is not wanted simply because it’s change.
Leadership demonstrates its influence by showing the benefits of changing. The benefits of improving the risk management culture can be shown to be fewer financial losses, less internal and external fraud, a greater understanding of the processes and procedures.
Most importantly, though, leadership should tell the new employees that changing (improving) the risk management culture, as long as employees follow the protocols put in place, will increase job security.
Without large financial losses due to improper decisions being made by employees, the company will be able to continue with current staffing levels.
Leadership is Influence to be Accountable
Successful organizations are those in which its employees, from the lowest levels to the CEO, hold themselves accountable.
Unsuccessful companies (at least long-term) are full of employees who will throw an employee under the bus instead of talking directly to that person.
When employees get thrown under the bus, back-stabbing is everyone’s favorite hobby and issues are addressed with the entire organization instead of with individuals who had the issue, leadership has not influenced employees to be self-accountable.
We’re all programmed with a fight or flight response. Our fight reflex causes us to not take the blame and to pass the buck. No one wants to look back.
Believe me, I get it.
I’ve messed up in my career and I take accountability for those mistakes. It’s easy to make excuses or pass the blame but we need to accept responsibility for the results.
In my daily work, I have three people who report directly to me and I have another 20 or so people who report directly to me on a part-time basis. With that many people, mistakes are going to happen.
When those mistakes happen, guess whose fault it is. It’s mine! I take that responsibility. That’s my job as the leader.
While I take responsibility for the employees with which I work, I also try to instill them to be personally accountable. When they mess up (and we all do) I want them to tell me so we can quickly address the situation.
Wouldn’t you rather someone make a mistake by making an informed decision in the moment (even though it turns out to be the wrong decision) than to not make a decision at all?
How can leaders influence accountability from his/her followers?
Leaders need to demonstrate through words and actions that mistakes and failures are a part of life. We’ll deal with the consequences and move on. It’s important employees know they will not get fired for making an informed mistake.
We try to deflect blame because of fear. If that fear can be removed by leadership’s influence, we’ll be accountable.
Leadership is Influence to Do What’s Right
Leaders should always do what’s right. In my definition of leadership, a person in charge of an organization or a movement who influences others to be unethical is not a leader.
Hitler is a great example of a purported leader who required unethical acts of his followers. I don’t consider him a leader though. He was a dictator. Plain and simple.
I wish the terms “ethical leadership” and “business ethics” would be thrown out the window. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. There cannot be something “right” in business but “wrong” outside of the business just because profit can be impacted.
Leaders influence others to do the right thing…always.
There is never a reason or excuse for someone to do something that is unethical. There is not a reason a leader would ask someone to execute an unethical act.
How can leaders influence others to do what’s right?
First, leaders need to be an example of proper living. They should always do the right thing. Too frequently do we read of business executives doing the wrong thing.
Leaders are not perfect. We understand that. Leaders will make mistakes. They will do something they think is best and it will turn out to not be. Mistakes are not the same as being unethical, however.
Second, leaders need to reward ethical behavior. When an employee does the right thing in a tough situation, she should be commended in private and then publicly. Although the employee might be embarrassed by the notoriety, she will appreciate the commendation.
That public applause from leadership will also demonstrate to other employees of the importance of doing the right thing.
Third, leaders should punish unethical behavior. If unethical behavior is not addressed, I guarantee you it will continue to occur.
A great example of this is when an employee commits fraud by stealing assets or confidential information. If that employee is not prosecuted, and just terminated, that person can go to another company and do the same thing.
Fourth, leaders should talk about the organization’s code of conduct. Good organizations require employees to annually acknowledge the code of conducts and other policies. However, acknowledging it is not the same as knowing it.
Also, if leadership doesn’t talk about the organization’s code of conduct and demonstrate it through its actions, employees won’t believe in it. They simply won’t buy in.
Leadership is Influence to Grow
Great leaders make other leaders. Leadership isn’t just about strategy or even execution, it’s about helping others grow.
We’ve seen leaders who influence others to affect change, to be accountable and to do the right thing. In many cases, however, those leaders cannot or will not help their subordinates or peers to grow.
These types of leaders have limiting beliefs. They are fearful of being replaced, losing income or even losing influence. They do not have giving hearts. They are in it for themselves.
Leaders also recognize their weaknesses. Through this, and in helping others grow, they purposefully bring people onto their teams who have strengths they don’t. A leader complements his weakness by working with people who have those traits as strengths.
For example, each of the employees on my team have strengths I do not have. This concoction of strengths will help each of us grow individually and as a team.
Too much emphasis is placed on our weaknesses. We need to improve this. We need to improve that. We hear this all the time in annual performance evaluations. Instead, great leaders will focus on strengths and put employees in positions at which they can excel.
As Jim Collins indicates in his best selling book, Good to Great, we need to get the right people on the right seat on the right bus.
Leadership is Influence to Improve the World
Watch this short video by the Kid President on how to change the world:
My purpose of life is to be a positive influence on everyone with whom I come into contact. I want to be a positive influence on those I talk to but also to those who just see me. In every aspect of my life, being a positive influence is the goal.
Through IntentionalEmployee, I’m striving to improve the world one employee at a time.
Leaders influence others to change. We addressed that above. Great leaders influence others to improve the world, not just change something small.
I’m blessed to live in the United States of America and live every day with the freedoms we have. While this is a great country, it can be improved. Every person and every organization can improve.
To think you’ve reached your best is both naive and egotistical.
Leaders who believe in the greater purpose of business inspire and their follows to be influencers in their communities. They make it okay to participate in charitable activities during the work week.
Let’s get one thing straight about the right and wrong way to influence improvement. The wrong way is to act like your charity of choice is the best mechanism and “require” employees to participate.
Each person can support a different charity. Setting a public goal and pushing employees to participate just to gain public notoriety is not the purpose. Influencing others to improve the world in their own ways is the purpose.
My primary source to which I contribute is my church. It’s the first “expense” we complete in the family budget. I view the work the church can do with my contribution as more important than other charitable endeavors (that is not to say my family does not contribute elsewhere).
Your method of charitable giving may be completely different and that’s okay. We’re both improving the world and that’s what’s important.
Leadership is Influence in Action
Leaders can influence others by living as examples for others to see. That’s great! Leaders who actively influence, however, will see much greater results.
Methods of influencing others includes active discussion, active participation, active giving. Leaders will see the greatest impacts of influence when they participate along side their followers.
That participation, though, should not be like a politician’s participation. You know, one in which the President gets a picture taken of him with a shovel but all he did was dig a two-inch hole in dirt that was already softened for him.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Great leaders know this.
You Can Influence Too
You are a leader. Regardless of your title at work, you are a leader. We lead ourselves, our families, our friends and co-workers.
Every person has the power to influence another. In fact, you often won’t realize the influence you have. That’s one reason you should always act in a way you would want others to see.
Now, go out there and be the leader you are meant to be. Be a positive influence and improve the world.
Question for you: What did you do today that was a positive influence on someone else? What did you do today that was a negative influence on someone else? What could you have done differently to change that influence to be positive?