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Who is Influencing You?

My last post concerned your level of influence with the people you lead. This post is about who is influencing you.

You are shaped and influenced by the experiences of your life and the people you share them with.

If you have ever responded to someone by saying, “I had never thought of it like that,” then you have been influenced by that person. If you’ve ever changed your thinking to match someone else’s then you have been seriously influenced by them.

I don’t think I’m going to like how this sounds but here’s the thing….if you want to be more successful then don’t hang around with less successful people. It’s a sad reality that you just can’t afford some of the people who may be in your life.

You, your life and your level of success are very likely the average of the five people you spend the majority of your time with. Many things and many people can bring you down but they need a whole lot of help from you to keep you down. Don’t help other people keep you down, stay away from those who do not have your best interests in mind. 

Now, there is an argument to be made that you help less successful people by hanging out with them. That may be true…IF your influence on them is greater than their influence on you. In every relationship you are involved in you had best be very honest with yourself about who is the greater influence. The other person’s negative influence may be more powerful than your positive influence, especially if your own success and self-confidence is a bit immature.

The key to determining who is influencing you is to realize that most everyone you interact with is influencing you to some extent. There are virtually no neutral human interactions. Every interaction causes you to feel better about yourself and your circumstances or it causes you to feel worse. 

You are a product of your environment, there is just no escaping that fact. If you want to be more positive and successful then place yourself in a successful and positive environment. You may need to leave some people behind but it’s not likely that they were true friends anyway.

It’s a hard but true fact.

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Leading with Influence

If you had no title of consequence, if you had zero power to punish and reward people – would they still follow you? Would you still get positive results from them? 

The answer to that question is yes if, IF, you are actually a true leader. 

At it’s core leadership is about influence. If you have the ability to influence others then you have the ability to lead. It is not your title or lofty position within an organization that makes you a leader, it’s your level of influence. 

If you’re truly leading people they will commit to you. People don’t commit to companies, they don’t commit to positions and they certainly don’t commit to titles. People commit to other people, period.

If your people are not committed to you then they are not truly following you. They may comply with your requests because you have the power to punish and reward but that simply makes you a boss not a leader. (Just to be clear here I do not use “boss” in a negative sense, I use it just to distinguish the difference between leading and not leading. I have worked for bosses with no leadership ability at all and for bosses who were outstanding leaders.)

The foundations that support influence are perception and visibility. Influence doesn’t happen unless you have improved others’ perception of you and increased your visibility. Once you’ve established the appropriate level of perception, you will have gained a solid reputation and foundation of respect. After you’ve increased your visibility, you’ll become known and valued in your organization. Influence now becomes possible.

So, how do you improve other people’s perception of you while increasing your visibility? Here are four ideas…

Intentionally plan your day. Most people sadly just let their day happen to them. People of influence happen to their day. They focus on the outcome they need from their day and not all the small events that may happen to them during it. They leverage the events that get them closer to their desired outcome while minimizing the impact of the events that don’t. 

Choose to help. My better days are the days I help others be better. My best days are the days when almost no one knows I did it. If you have to tell people that you’re helping others you’re still missing the influence mark; help enough people and you won’t have to tell anyone because lots of people will notice the difference that you make.

Accept responsibility for the outcome. Don’t blame others for your mistakes. You will never learn from a mistake that you won’t admit and when you don’t accept responsibility for your mistakes you at least inadvertently shift the blame to someone else; that does not improve other people’s perception of you. Mistakes happen, they are a part, an important part, of growing. I wouldn’t recommend highlighting your mistakes but don’t try to hide them either.

Recognize others….for their success and yours. People crave recognition! Even people who say that don’t need any recognition literally crave it. It’s a basic human need. So fill that need for others, praise them early and often. Be intentional about looking for good things other people do and be lavish in your recognition. Also remember that it’s very likely that others contributed to your success, don’t forget to share your success with them through public recognition. No one, I mean no one, succeeds completely on their own. So don’t behave as though you did.

Influence is built, little by little, day after day. If you want to earn the commitment of your people then commit to build your influence every single day.

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Influential Leadership

The premier American author on leadership, John Maxwell, says that leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less.

I wholeheartedly agree with that, wholeheartedly with a bunch of conditions. The conditions all have to do with where influence comes from. 

Influence doesn’t just happen, influence, like pretty much everything else in life must be earned. When you’re promoted to a leadership position the position comes with a certain degree of influence. The influence that comes with a position however is very perishable, it comes with an expiration date that more closely resembles milk rather than cheese. It doesn’t last long. 

Soon after being promoted to a leadership position you must begin to earn your influence. Your level of influence rises and falls based on your integrity, your ability to make decisions, the quality of your judgement, and your willingness to demonstrate to people that you actually care about them.

By the way, your level of influence is impacted by those same factors whether you occupy a leadership position or not. That’s why it is completely unnecessary to hold a position of leadership in order to lead. It’s your level of influence that provides you with an opportunity to lead, not a title or a position. 

A good many people in leadership positions fail to realize just how perishable their influence really is. They start thinking they “have arrived” and that people will continue to follow them no matter what. That is simply not the case.

If you’re a person who truly wants to lead then you must work to grow your level of influence every day. You must make certain that your words match your actions. You must make the decisions that non-leaders are unwilling or unable to make. Those decisions must be right far more often then they are wrong.

You also must actually care about the people you would lead. People will not follow an uncaring leader. If you’re not the type of person who is willing to invest yourself in someone else’s success then you will struggle as a leader. That doesn’t make you a bad person, it just means you’re likely a better follower than leader.

To become an influential leader don’t try to become a leader, try to become an influential person. When you develop the qualities required to grow your influence then the leadership opportunities will find you. 

 
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The Look of Leadership

They say you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. The same could be said of a leader.

Many leaders, maybe even most, look and act like a leader. (Or at least they look and act the way a majority of people think a leader should look and act) They carry themselves a certain way, speak with conviction and they are good communicators who can effectively present to large groups. 

Many leaders, maybe even most, look and act like a leader…. but not all!

I hear way too often that “they don’t look like a leader” or “they don’t speak well in front of groups” or “they are too quiet” or they don’t dress “right” to lead. 

That is way too simplistic. 

It is beyond foolish to judge someone’s leadership ability by how they look or sound. Leadership is about influence pure and simple. If someone can influence others then they can lead others. Leaders come in all shape and sizes, they come in all ages and they come from all backgrounds. 

The only way to actually judge a person’s leadership ability is to look at the people they lead. Simply put, the most successful leaders have the most successful followers. The most successful leaders are the ones who create more successful leaders. 

While a good speaker may influence someone for a time a good leader can influence someone for a lifetime. I’d much rather follow a true leader who leads without looking like a leader than follow a person who merely looks like a leader. 

The reality is there is no “leadership look,” there are only leadership actions. 

Impeccable integrity, consistently sound judgement, a truly caring heart, a desire to see others succeed, matching their words with their actions, excellent relationship skills, the ability to feed egos beyond their own, providing consistent recognition and feedback are just some of the skills, attitudes and actions that help someone lead. 

Look for those things and when you see them, then you’ll be seeing “the look” of a leader!

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Can You Lead You?

Before you can lead anyone else you must be able to lead yourself. Before you can lead up you must lead yourself exceptionally well.

Leading “up” simply means extending your influence to those above you in your organization. When you lead up you have much greater impact on your organization than your position might suggest. Your influence comes not from your title or position, it comes from the value that you bring to the entire organization. 

To lead yourself exceptionally well and earn the opportunity to lead up in your organization you must first learn to control your attitude. Your attitude is entirely your choice. If you don’t fully believe that then you have surrendered one of life’s greatest assets to the whims of other people’s moods and “stuff” over which you have no control. 

Yes, your attitude, or your positive attitude, can be one of your greatest assets. Your attitude shapes almost every decision you make. It can either add to or subtract from the ability you have to tackle the tough jobs required to lead up.

While you may not be able to control all the events of your day and you certainly can’t control the attitude of other people, you DO have COMPLETE control over YOUR attitude. 

To lead up you must learn to control your calendar. You must be able to say no to the often unimportant urgent things so you can focus on the truly important value adding activities where you can make a difference for the organization.

You must realize as a person looking to extend their influence that your words matter. As your influence within an organization grows your words will carry more weight. As you work to earn the opportunity to lead up you will need to choose your words with care because your credibility is fragile and the wrong word at the wrong time can damage it. 

If you’re going to lead yourself exceptionally well you must develop the discipline to think BEFORE you talk. Great leaders know that there is no way to “unsay” something that has been said and even worse, there is no way to “unhear” what has been heard. 

Think of it like this: if your words aren’t adding value to a conversation then what are they adding?

To lead yourself exceptionally well you must find balance in your life. You must lead your life according to your core values and goals. Your core values and goals are what allow you to set priorities in all areas of your life. Knowing, truly knowing, your core values and setting goals around them, allows you to make balanced decisions that reflect who you really are.

It will look to other people as if you “walk you talk,” it will look that way because you will be walking your talk. You might be able to fool some people for a while but when attempting to lead up, frauds are discovered pretty quickly. 

To lead yourself and to lead up, know who you are, know what you stand for and work everyday to be true to yourself. 

 
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Are You Truly a Leader?

John Maxwell’s one word definition of leadership is this: Influence

I agree, sort of. Only sort of because what you do doesn’t make you a leader, why you do it does.

Dictionaries define influence as the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.

Everyone has at least a little influence. We all have some effect the behavior of those around us, just as they have some effect on ours. We have that effect whether we intend to or not. So does that mean everyone is a leader whether they intend to be or not? I would say no.

That means we probably cannot define leadership with just one word. We need two.

Intentional influence. Okay, maybe we need three words…. Intentional directed influence.

Wandering around influencing others does not make you a leader. Being keenly aware of your influence and using it to intentionally change behavior and build character makes you a leader.

Now, for those of you who do not currently have a fancy title or top position and believe you need one to be a leader let me say this:

You don’t.

People don’t follow titles or positions. They follow people and the people they choose to follow are the ones who they believe care about them enough to help them succeed.

Now, for those of you who do have a title or position and believe that makes you a leader let me say this:

It doesn’t.

If your influence comes only from your title or position then you may be a manager, you may be a boss, but you’re almost certainly not a leader. Your title may give you a little higher level of influence temporarily but consider this…

If you lost your title, lost your position, lost your authority to reward and discipline, would you get the same results from the people around you? Would your influence level remain high? Would people still follow you?

Those are huge questions. To answer yes you need an amazing amount of confidence in your leadership ability. I hope you were able to answer yes. Be aware however, the brights lights of important sounding titles and lofty positions can blind even the most well intentioned person to their shortcomings. So if you answered yes I also hope your people would agree with you. If you AND your people agree then there can be no doubt; you are truly a leader.

Influencing others is a part of life, intentionally influencing others is the essence of leadership. Don’t squander your chance at leadership by just letting influence happen. Be intentional with how you influence, influence to build, influence to build people and organizations. Develop positive influence.

When your influence is positive your leadership can outlast you. That’s great leadership!