When I think about the people who are and have been influential to me, several factors stand out that all of them have in common.
1. I feel a personal connection to them in some way. They are not necessarily within my circle of close friends, but I have some affinity for them and what they stand for. I can approach them, and they seem to care about my personal wellbeing.
2. I trust their judgment. I have seen them in action and observed that they make reasoned and well-informed decisions, especially in a crisis.
3. They are consistently accountable. They are people I can always count on to keep promises and to be open and honest. Furthermore, they are fair, optimistic, and have a progressive mindset to make things better for all concerned.
As I seek to grow my own influence, I keep these examples in mind. They are good frame of reference for anyone seeking to grow his or her influence.
Power can be an illusion; influence is real. I will go so far as to say that power is what one resorts to when they have no influence.
The television series Madam Secretary contrasts power and influence in every episode. International crises arise in the global power arena. Power oriented solutions either stall or promise even more discord. Then, somehow, the formal and informal channels of diplomatic influence find a way for parties to reach agreement and move on.
Power is an energy that makes something happen. Power itself is value neutral–neither good nor bad. When someone is powerful, they can make a lot happen quickly.
The INPowered are able to summon energy from within themselves to take action that can make life better for themselves and others. As I seek to help develop INPowering leaders, I intend for those leaders to help others become more INPowered as well. But more than powerful, I want them to be influential.
Power can be used selfishly as well as for the greater good. Some people love being powerful because they can make things happen to their liking, irrespective of what others want, or even what is in the best interest of the greater good.
I identified five types of power in an earlier post How Powerful are You? No doubt, power comes from the position one holds. People with position power can use this power legitimately–for its intended purpose–or illegitimately–in ways that coerce and manipulate others to comply or acquiesce.
Personal power, however, is a mega-power. I call this power influence.
The influential do not need to wield power simply because they have the authority to do so. Power demands compliance, and compliance is not necessarily commitment. That’s why power can be an illusion.
Influence captures the hearts and minds of followers who trust and believe in those who influence them. For that to happen, to earn the trust of others so that you become a person of influence, you have to build relationships based on respect, empathy, and compassion.
That’s personal power: when all you have to do is suggest a course of action and others fall in step to use their personal power and resources to support the action.
The foundation of all enduring leadership is this personal power.
Become a person of influence,
and you will be
The CEO and three Sr. VPs. looked at me from across the boardroom table. They wanted to know if I could take a bunch of highly educated and technically brilliant people and teach them how to work together.
Their idea was to allow their technical staff to work in a project-driven, cross-functional matrix organization and let team leadership emerge organically as needed. This would avoid additional levels of management in the corporate structure.
They wanted me to instruct the technical staff and their current managers in the interpersonal and team building skills that would support their intentions.
The idea of organic leadership got my attention. I wondered what would have to happen in a growing organization like theirs for that idea to work.
I found out.
My takeaway from the experience was that no matter how well trained a team is, or how cooperative the team members are, you simply cannot get away from the reality that teams will seek out an individual to lead.
Leaders Lead. Individuals had to step up and set the example of how to work together and take personal responsibility for following through. Those who did tended to be the individuals around whom the others orbited.
The INPowered team is one in which every Individual (the “I”) makes a personal commitment to give every ounce of creative energy to making the team successful (the collective “We”).
That being said, it takes a leader to set the example that others can and will follow. Inevitably, team members look to someone whom they trust to help them be successful. They expect that individual to step up and say, “I will lead.”
I did observe that there is an elegance to this self-organizing and organic approach to leading. When the leader that the team organically recognized from among themselves confronts team members to follow through on their individual commitments, they deliver. The accountability does not come across as coerced.
I also noticed that the individual who says, “I will lead,” typically demonstrates the following qualities.
They show INITIATIVE
In keeping with my definition of the INPowered, leaders take the initiative to find ways to make things better for themselves and others. These individuals take the first step so everyone can move together.
They know how to ask relevant questions, frame situations in solution-oriented language, move team members into focused action, and seek needed resources.
They seek INVOLVEMENT and INTERACTION
These individuals get everyone involved and maintain on-going contact. They work shoulder-to-shoulder making sure that those with the expertise are sharing it. They get team members talking and sharing ideas, experiences, and solutions.
They are INCLUSIVE
These individuals look outside the confines of their immediate team and bring in a diversity of experiences and perspectives that give the team fresh ideas and challenge them to think outside their paradigms. No one feels on the fringe. Everyone is valued and welcome.
These individuals who step up and say, “I will lead,” are confident in themselves and their team members. They trust everyone will perform at their individual best so the team can succeed as a whole.
Think of your network as a coalition of diverse interests. You want to be welcome in a variety of groups, each of which has a special interest. The U.S. Secretary of State often finds the best ally to be someone with whom they have formed a personal relationship to underpin the formal relationship.
The saying goes, “Want a friend? Be a friend.” You are your own best diplomat and statesman to a vast array of social and professional networks.
The key? Be available, be empathetic, be willing to help others achieve their goals and support their interests.
One of Zig Ziglar’s most famous lines is, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” That’s a solid philosophy on which to build your network.
Make a positive difference for someone today, and watch your network grow.
President Obama has taken some hits over his leadership style. His seeming failure to build an interpersonal network that includes contacts from across the political spectrum is at the center of that criticism.
His leadership style might have been even more damaging to his effectiveness than any disagreement over his policies. In fact, a more connected style might have offset the opposition to his actual policy agenda.
The same dynamic applies to any leader anywhere: you cannot lead effectively without building a network of personal connections. Leading is a contact game.
I am blessed to have been mentored by a master connector.
For me it happened like this:
I knew Kent. He introduced me to Jim, and Jim and I formed a professional and personal friendship. Kent and Jim were networkers. Jim introduced me to Bruce, who I learned was a master connector. A few years later, Bruce offered me a staff position in his organization, a regional technology education center that connected directly to a statewide system.
The first week on the job, Bruce informed me he had secured me a place in a statewide leadership program for new administrators. I reminded him that I was not an administrator. He explained that he had connections, and they owed him. Voilá.
Bruce told me building these connections was the best thing I could do to immediately get the understanding of the system in which I would be working, and the personal relationships I forged would be invaluable.
He was right. I am composing this post from a hotel room in Claremore, OK, where I am calling on a new client who is the product of that network I began building in my early career.
Bruce mentored me at a time when I didn’t even comprehend my own potential. But he did, and he helped me discover my leadership talents and build on them. As I would learn, Bruce did for others what he did for me. He built powerful people and connected them to each other. Consequently, he was an influential leader professionally and personally. Bruce’s power came from his network, and his network came from his joy of helping people to be empowered.
Now, I call that being INPowered:
taking the initiative to find ways to make life better for yourself and for others.
What I learned from Bruce, I pass along to you:
- Leaders connect. They build one-on-one relationships with many people with diverse backgrounds and interests.
- Leaders interconnect the connections. They make sure the people they know, know each other. The more connections, the finer the mesh, which means the tighter the network and the more effective and efficiently it works.
- The network is also a safety net. People with mutual connections feel a bond and support each other.
Today’s social media works on the same principle. But the one ingredient it lacks is the face-to-face interaction that can only happen when people stand face-to-face, shoulder-to-shoulder in each other’s presence.
Build your network everyday,
and you will be amazed
at how it helps you to be
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