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Using Our Influence to Lead

Monday, February 9, 2015


“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”
—Albert Schweitzer 

The insightful author, Ken Blanchard, states the key to successful leadership is influence, not authority. This certainly is wisdom. It is our actions and attitudes that influence those around us. If we see others as valued teammates, if we work with our people and not above them, then our example can inspire others to greatness. Unfortunately, this kind of positive influence is not the norm. 

Surveys show that more than 70 percent of people working today do not feel fully engaged, and more than 50 percent do not feel they have a productive working relationship with their manager. In fact, 33 percent do not get along with their manager, and the same percentage is actively looking for a new job. 

Clearly, morale in business is low. This is bad news for productivity and retention. Research finds that happy workers do great work; unhappy workers, less so! Unfortunately, too many managers do not take time to develop relationships with the people they work with. 

How Leaders Build Influence 

Often using a command and control style, many leaders fail to seek advice, ideas, input, and feedback. In short, they do not encourage or empower their people. Too many senior managers believe, “People will follow me because of my authority here in my corner office or my title.” That is just not so, at least not for long. People who are led by self-absorbed and insecure managers will not last long in that environment, as statistics have shown. And they certainly will not sustain any enthusiasm and passion for their work and the company. 

The best leaders turn their focus away from themselves, and make the growth and success of their team members a top priority. These leaders derive satisfaction and sustain success from the satisfaction and success of their team members. 

Let’s remember the adage that to be a truly great leader, we must stand with our people, not above them. Indeed, the goal is to win the hearts and minds of our people. That does not mean befriending them, it means taking even a few minutes for conversations with them, listening and being encouraging and helpful. Note the words with them. 

It is very important to our people that their managers genuinely care about them and their ideas. People who feel appreciated and actively supported in their career will reward their company with their very best work. And the very best leaders will earn the respect of their people by thinking about them, treating them as teammates—not staff. 


The best leaders embody positive energy and visibly recognize and celebrate the good work and success of others. That is what excites our people. That is the kind of leader who has the strongest influence. Kind words motivate people! 

Influencers in my Career 

There are numerous leaders who have greatly influenced me. Three I’d like to mention are: 

  • Lewis Perry, my high school professor
  • Bill Dunn, to whom I reported early in my Johnson & Higgins career
  • Christine LaSala, my partner at J&H. 

Each had the humility and a quiet confidence to focus on others. Each was a compelling example for others. Each was encouraging and very helpful—I knew they were rooting for me. Consequently, I worked very hard and wanted to succeed. Each of these leaders helped to bring out the best in me, and I have overflowing respect for them. 

This is influence, and this is leadership. 

Cathy Becker, director of human resources for AISC and formerly with J&H, says that leadership is how we help people feel about themselves. That certainly captures the essence of effective leadership, and illustrates how important it is for us to connect with and positively influence our people. And this cannot be done effectively with a “tell” style, nor can it be done with emails. 

We have to make the time to be with our people and mentor and coach them. Spending that focused time with them lets them know we are genuine about helping them, and that we care. This is an investment in the quality of your culture—the quality of the work and service of your company. Ultimately, it’s an investment in your financial results! 

Moving Forward 

Let’s all take a closer look at articles and books that describe servant leadership, emotional intelligence, empathy, and the golden rules of relationships. We can all gain helpful knowledge, principles, and tips about connecting with our people and earning their trust and respect. 

I also encourage leaders to regularly seek advice and feedback. Remember, the higher up we are, the less honest feedback we receive. We must assure those with whom we work that we want their honest feedback, and that we will be receptive, not defensive. We want to assure them that one of our top priorities is to continue to learn and grow. This is how to inspire winning culture. 

And all of us can be leaders, whatever our position. We can be a flame of optimism and inspiration, influencing our company, our division, our team, and even a team member to do great work. In fact, “the more we give of ourselves to help our team and team members, the more we give them our trust, the greater our influence!”

About the Author

John Keyser is the founder and principal of Common Sense Leadership. He works with executives, helping them to develop organizational cultures that will produce outstanding financial results year after year, as well as ongoing employee and organizational improvement;

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