Monday, June 23, 2014

Leadership and Influence

In his 1998 classic work "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" John C. Maxwell states that "Leadership is influence---nothing more, nothing less." In the 10th Anniversary edition (2007) Maxwell  tweaked this to read "The true measure of leadership is influence---nothing more, nothing less."  Chris Brady and Orrin Woodward, in their best selling book Launching a Leadership Revolution, add clarity the idea that leadership is influence, "Leadership is the influence of others in a productive, vision-driven direction and is done through example, conviction, and character of the leader."  In both cases, influence is the key to effective leadership!

So how does one become influential, and thereby, have the potential to become an effective leader?  I offer what I call the three Cs of leadership.  These are not original ideas, as each one can be found in the leadership literature; however, in combination, they can be a formula for powerful leadership.

1) Character

The concept that effective leaders need to have character to develop influence and begin to assume the role of a leader is not new nor an earth shattering revelation.  In fact, Maxwell lists it as the first quality that a person must have to become an effective leader (The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader).  What is shocking is how many leaders lack and/or choose not to display a strong sense of character.  Business, politics, and even the Church, are full of examples where a leader was on the rise or at their zenith and had a massive fall due to a complete breakdown in the character department.  My goal here is not to rail on particular personalities, but rather to lament the reality that more and more it is becoming harder and harder to find men and women of real character who can and will lead.  I believe that most people long for real leadership and in most cases are sorely disappointed.  I had lunch with a friend recently and was catching up.  He was sharing a story with me that illustrates this point.  He left a job because the owner of the company, and his boss, had recently sold a piece of merchandise (I frankly don't even know what it was, but it really doesn't matter) as new knowing it was previously owned.  He charged the customer as if it were new, and the customer was none the wiser.  My friend confronted him on it (my friend had courage and integrity) and then quit!  This is an example of a blatant lack of character.  "No one knew so that made it alright" was his attitude.  I disagree!  Character and honesty matter.  Leaders need to have and display character to gain influence.

2 ) Courage

Again, not a revolutionary idea; it is also one of Maxwell's 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader.  Unfortunately, we see a sea of leaders who choose expedience over courage.  They will do whatever is politically correct to survive, even if it means unconscionable compromise.  Don't get me wrong, I understand that life is full of compromises, but, there are issues of character that should never be compromised, and they are.  Too many "leaders" are too concerned with their position and not doing they know to be right!  There is a great scene in the movie Braveheart where William Wallace has just been knighted after defeating the English.  Once the ceremony has concluded, the nobles all fall back into their internal bickering and strife.  Wallace and his entourage leave and are followed out by Robert the Bruce who confronts him about making enemies of the nobles.  Wallace retorts " don't follow titles, they follow courage..."!  We need men and women of courage.  This has become an extinct virtue in our politically correct society!  Leaders need to have and display courage to gain influence.

3) Compassion

I recently had the privilege of spending a couple of days with a friend of mine whom I have known for over 30 years.  He was relaying a story to me about the end of his last job (he has been retired for a few years now).  He worked for a very large and well know non-profit organization that depends heavily on a volunteer force to "get the job done".  The organization had a leadership turnover.  The CEO retired and a new boss came to town.  The new CEO began to "clean house" and pretty much forced my friend to retire.  While he had not planned on retiring, he was in a financial position where he could with no real issues if he would be allowed to work for an additional three month (he hit 30 years in the organization).  The CEO agreed and my friend went about doing his usual exemplary job.  He attended a work related conference and returned to work and was promptly called into the CEO's office.  There he found the CEO (a paid position) and the President of the Board (a volunteer position) and was told to clean out his desk and he would be escorted from the building and that he was not to come back.  He would be paid, but would not be allowed to work.  My friend gently protested and shared that if he was being paid, he was more than willing to keep working, and surely did not need to be escorted from the building.  The Volunteer Board President's comment was "Well that is just the way we do in in Corporate America!"  I'm sorry, but you just don't treat people that way.  There was no compassion and a complete lack of leadership.  I would argue strenuously that "real" leaders are empathetic.  I am not saying that they should not make the touch decision...they should, BUT, there is a way to do it and preserve a person's dignity while still meeting the objective.  Leaders need to have and display compassion to gain influence.

One final note.  As I come across leadership blogs that I find helpful and insightful, I will post a link here and highlight them.  Today I want to share All Things Leadership written by my longtime friend and colleague John R. Plastow.  John has over 35 years in leadership and leadership development and has been through the fires personally and professionally.  He is knowledgeable, insightful, and has the street cred from years of leading in a variety of situations.  John is a leader, has influence, and strives to always practice the 3 Cs.  You can read John's blog at

Go out and lead and change the world!