If you admire John Maxwell as much as I do, you probably believe him when he says just about anything.
One thing he said is “Leadership is influence. If people can increase their influence with others, they can lead more effectively.”
That sounds great, profound, and interesting. But do you really know what it means to influence? If you don’t, is it messing with your effectiveness as a leader? If so, how can you change that?
First, let’s take a look at what the dictionary says about each term.
When I looked up the term “lead”, here’s what I saw. To lead, you take someone by the hand and guide him somewhere. It might be down a trail. Maybe you hold your child’s hand in a store. Or you could lead someone in your car to a common destination.
You can also lead by words. This involves persuasion, since you’re not taking the other person’s hand. You’ve got to convince the other person to go with you. You can try to force him, but don’t expect it to work for very long.
Influence is defined as leading someone to do something.
The common ground is that the leader has a purpose for what he does. You lead someone somewhere definite. It can be someplace you’ve planned to go, or it can be somewhere you just end up by wandering. Either way, you lead, don’t you?
Here’s another way to look at influence. I once had a friend who was arrested for drunk driving. Because he chose to drink heavily that night, his judgment failed him. You could also say it failed him earlier when he chose to get drunk. Maybe peer pressure or stress was to blame. No matter. What we choose to focus our attention on influences us.
How can you influence intentionally?
First, have a definite purpose in mind.
Napoleon Hill repeats this over and over in Think and Grow Rich. When you focus your energy on a specific target, you’ve got the best chance to hit it. Without a definite purpose, you’ll be distracted by every shiny object on your way.
A wise teacher of mine once said, “Confucius say, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.’”
Don’t just lead people into the wilderness. Plan your destination like you’d plan a vacation. Decide where you’ll go and work backwards to the beginning as you plan to get there.
Second, know what you’ll do to overcome obstacles.
There’s no guarantee that your trip to work won’t be interrupted. A multi-car pileup could block traffic for hours. Your car could break down without warning. Or you could get a call that your spouse has just been rushed to the hospital.
Lots of things can stand in your way when you go somewhere. What will you do? Will you adjust your route so you can still get to work? Will you call and reschedule that appointment? Will you sit in traffic and patiently wait for it to clear?
All of these situations give you two choices. Will you press ahead? Or will you give up?
Your answer reveals whether you’re a leader or not.
Leaders know they’ll have setbacks. That’s why they think through every possible scenario beforehand. And as they do, they imagine themselves doing whatever it takes to succeed. And if they fail, they learn from it instead of lamenting about it.
Third, understand that leadership is a process, not an event.
Everyone approaches life in his or her own way. Your way works for you, but that doesn’t guarantee it works for everyone.
If you’ve ever shopped for shoes, you know there are a lot of shoes to choose from. Not only that, there are an array of sizes on those racks – something that will fit most anyone. Find the shoe that fits, and your feet will be comfortable, protected, and prepared to get you where you want to go.
As a leader, you’ve got to find what fits every person on your team. Ask questions to find out what motivates him. What makes him angry? What makes him feel appreciated? The answers show you what will move him with influence instead of force.
This will take work, but I promise you, if you’ll do it, you’ll have more influence than you ever imagined you would. And it will come much easier because you’ve done your homework. Cultivate this skill and you’ll be to lead anyone anywhere.