It’s important as we lay the groundwork for getting better at leading others, that we attempt a definition of the word leadership. Of course, it’s been defined over and over by many leadership experts – and I’m not going to attempt to compete with what has already been written. I once had a pastor/leader that I deeply admired tell me that when he’s writing a sermon that he tries to write so that a young child could understand it. That way he knew that just about anyone could understand what he was trying to convey.
So, I would define leadership this way – Leadership is Influence. There it is. I’m pretty sure that you just got goosebumps and you now think that I’m probably the smartest man alive. Actually, I’m confident that there have been thousands of others who have equated leadership and influence. But influence really is at the core of leadership.
You see, whether you’re leading at work, at home, at the parent-teacher organization, your neighborhood association, or wherever – you are in a process of influencing those that you lead. There are 3 types of influence that I would point out (once again, overly simplistic, but stick with me):
- Positive Influence – where you intentionally choose to lead and you take folks in a positive direction towards a common goal or outcome
- Negative Influence – where you choose to lead those around you towards skepticism, gossip, anarchy, nay-saying, etc. that results in a group that sabotages the mission of an organization and ultimately leads to dysfunction and failure
- Neutral Influence – where you choose to tell yourself and those around you that you are not a leader or you fail to recognize that you are in a leadership position thereby taking no responsibility for those that are following you and taking no steps to either positively or negatively influence the direction of the team, group, department, etc.
I think we would agree that we all want to be positive leaders, but influence is about more than just being positive or moving towards a positive outcome. You see, when we influence others, we are not just influencing their work or influencing the tasks that are to be performed. But, we are influencing them as a person – their self-esteem, their self-worth, their sense of “making a difference,” their attitude…I could go on and on.
Now, I don’t want to come across too philosophical or give the impression that leadership somehow gives us the ability to control another’s life. In a future post, I would like to write about the role that a follower has in the leader-follower relationship – because there is plenty of responsibility for each of those things (self-esteem, attitude, etc.) that rests squarely on the shoulders of the follower. But, I want to communicate that leadership is larger than a task, or a business, or a bottom line. It is about taking people on a journey that builds them up, tells them they can do and be more, helps them understand that they are making a difference, and, yes, when done well, leads to a positive bottom line, outcome, or organization as a whole.
So, how about you? Which of the 3 types of influence have you seen where you’ve worked and volunteered? Which have you seen in your own leadership?