John Maxwell succinctly defined leadership as “influence, nothing more, nothing less.” While I appreciate Maxwell’s minimalistic definition, I think it is off the mark when it comes to the true purpose of leadership.
People are influenced to change opinions, behaviors, and beliefs from something as simple as a billboard or as trivial as an Instagram post. Businesses work to influence our purchasing choices, teachers attempt to influence our study habits, and friends seek to influence our fashion.
Nothing is wrong with these attempts to influence. Some are good for us, some our bad. Since we ultimately get to choose what we allow to influence us, the responsibility is still in our hands. No leader, or advertisement, can pull that from us without our consent, yet we must acknowledge the manipulative nature of the desire to influence.
Why Should We Care? Influence is defined by Mirriam-Webster as ‘the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen.’ We assume, and often rightly so, that, based on our experience, this path is better than that path. When we strongly believe in a particular path our words and actions reflect this conviction as we attempt to influence others to value it also.
We are constantly attempting to influence those around us. Is that leadership? If so, I must be missing something.
In my experience, it’s impact, not influence, that define leadership. Leaders don’t have impact unless those we lead choose to allow us to. Our responsibility as leaders is to provide an environment and opportunities for team members to want to be impacted.
Leaders that impact others not only change a person’s belief in something, they change the person. Their view on the world, their relationships, their dreams all become congruent. It’s difficult to overstate the significance of an impactful leader. They change lives.
REAL TALK - Action Steps Here’s the deal, influence is transactional and primarily addresses individual things - preferences, beliefs, ideals. Impact is transformational and changes the person - who they are, their purpose.
Those are not the same things. You know it, and I know it. I’ve been influenced by a lot of people in my life. Some I may consider leaders, many I would not. But those that have truly impacted my life are not only leaders, but heroes.
Here’s a few ideas on focusing on impact over influence:
Ask, don’t tell
One of the key tenets of impact is self-discovery. The leaders that impact others are those that don’t seek to push their beliefs on those they lead, they strive to help those they lead discover their beliefs for themselves. That is done much more through questions than it is through speeches.
Reflect, seek to understand
Give those you lead opportunities to look back and reflect on why they do what they do. We all have our current belief system for a reason. Often that reason is because of our past experiences. If a belief system isn’t working, one of the most important motives for change is helping those we lead understand where it’s coming from. Awareness and understanding are impactful.
Trust the Process, be patient
This is a messy operation. It won’t happen on your timetable and it probably won’t happen during your time together. Investing in people is the right way to lead. Helping team members know themselves is the right way to lead. You may not benefit from the fruits of your labor, but it’s still the right way. Don’t waiver. Right is always right.
Influence is no doubt a means to impact. By helping those we lead look at things differently, explore other possibilities, and be open to new perspectives we are paving the way for impact to take place. But, we must always realize that it’s their choice, and their life. Your influence as a leader noticed briefly, but your impact will be felt by those you lead forever.
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