Webster’s dictionary provides the following definition of influence: It is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself. The power of leading by influence provides the most effective means of leading others.
John C. Maxwell gives a similar, but more detailed definition. Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, and nothing less.” And I’ve found this to be so true in my own journey as a leader. I’ve discovered; if you are going to effective lead others, you will need to develop the capacity or ability to bring about positive change upon those whom you lead. This includes helping those whom you lead to build character, providing your team a fertile environment for personal development and promoting positive behaviors in your people.
I remember moving up from the enlisted ranks and becoming a young naval officer. My very first leadership position, as an officer, was deck division and the boatswain mates. A Boatswain’s Mate maintains the exterior surfaces of ships, including painting, upkeep of ship’s exterior, deck equipment, and life boats. They also operated the ship’s small boats during a number of evolutions. Everyone told me the division was made up of a bunch of malcontents prone to disciplinary problems. Those in the division were treated as malcontents. And the division’s low self belief met the low expectations everyone had of them. John Maxwell says, “You never outperform your own self belief.” When your people take in the negativity and poison from their work environment, it can wear down and limit their self belief.
I could have taken the same position everyone else had taken before. However, I decided to take a much different Approach. I told them I believed in them. That if they took pride in their work, I would stand behind them. And I would acknowledge them up the chain of command.
Things did not change over night. It was not easy. And believe me, that is an understatement. Change is never easy, but getting a group of people to believe in themselves. when no one else did seemed near impossible. Never-the-less, I stuck with it. I set high expectations. I created a fertile environment. I sought out opportunities to praise excellence. Positive behaviors were publicly acknowledge and planted like a seed. Once they understood someone truly cared for them; the capacity to care for themselves grew inside of them. As that capacity grew, it yielded the fruit of positive self belief. As their self belief grew, they sought out ways to make the division better. They took ownership of excellence and made it s common practice.
I have to admit I did not set out trying to prove Maxwell’s concept was true. Meaning, I was simply wanting to treat others the way I had been treated as an enlisted man. As an enlisted man, I had privilege of being taught leadership by my Chief Petty Officer (Chief).
My Chief created an environment for me which demanded and recognized excellence. When I expressed an interest in becoming an officer, the ship’s executive officer took me under his wing. He piled me with extra responsibilities which stretched me. Both he and my Chief had high standards for themselves and held me to the same standard. Both praised excellence. My past has proven the following to me: “Leadership is influence, nothing more, and nothing less.”
When I look back now, understanding that leadership is all about influence. I now know why great mentors, teachers, pastors and leaders are so important. When a leader positively influences another, they lead others towards a pathways of excellence. Pathways; which are very difficult to find without a good mentor, a good teacher, or a good leader. A good leader help me find my path of excellence. As a leader, what is your capacity to influence? Whom are you developing? Is the type of environment you’ve created suited to produce the excellence your company’s mission calls for? These are but a few of the questions we need to stop and periodically, ask our selves.
And what of the importance of the environment in your workplace? It is important, as a leader, to be proactive caretakers of our work place environment. Your influence as a leader is critical if you wish to have a workplace environment where people are unafraid to take ownership of what they do. Where elevated self belief is common place. Where people are motivated to wade though failures in order to seize success and bring about excellence.
I would like to hear back from you. Please take the time to answer the following and share your answers so that others can learn from your leadership experience:
- How have you benefitted from having a leader, mentor, teacher, etc., invest in your life?
- What qualities should you look for, as a leader, when choosing a person to mentor?