The dynamics of influential leadership – 1

In the light of the general – almost generic – definition of leadership, a careful examination of the title of this write-up throws up what may be considered a contradiction of sort. According to a definition popularized by leadership guru, John Maxwell, leadership is influence. Talking about influential leadership therefore is like stating the obvious. Taken in its literal form, one could surmise that anyone in position of leadership exerts some level of influence, good or bad, on people.

However, the focus of this series is positive, sustainable influence. Anybody can use his leadership position to compel obedience from subordinates. Great leaders earn the loyalty of their subordinates. It is important to note however, that the leader/follower dichotomy applies mainly in positional leadership.

One of the questions I love asking, especially from young people is “What do you see as success or what would make you believe that you have succeeded in life?” Most of the answers I get have to do with material acquisition symbolized by a life of affluence with luxurious cars, houses in secluded areas of town, holidays in exotic places luxuriating on private beaches and waterfronts. For this reason, priorities are out of order and people have become worshippers of ‘things’. Everyone who assumes a position of leadership is therefore expected to have them and spread the largesse around, else his leadership is questionable! It is this expectation of people from leadership that fuels corruption. Instead of using their position to serve people, leaders in this kind of vortex are wont to use their position to enrich themselves. Their followers expect it anyway and would do same if the tables were turned!

There is no doubt that many of these may be the trappings or appurtenances of success where legitimately earned, they are not a definition of true success.

True success is about influence not affluence. Influence can be defined as the capacity to get others attracted to your personality in a way that they want to listen to you or do something for you. The key to achieving that kind of result is impact. There must be something in the leader’s life that affects others positively.

Do you know the current Miss World? The fastest race car driver in the world? The World Footballer of the Year for 2009? The biggest single business in Africa? In the most, I am sure you don’t have an answer to any of these questions. Not to worry, neither do I! Why don’t you know them? None of them has made any significant direct impact in your life. But I bet that you can remember a teacher from your elementary school several years ago who affected your life in a positive way.

There are people that you would literally break an arm and a leg for; I daresay, that you can take a bullet for because of your high regard for them, not because you are compelled to and definitely not because they are paying you a dime. How many people are willing to do same for you? This is the essence of true success as a leader.

Influence is reflected in the provision of quality service. True influence is about what you do with and for others. The implication of this is that you cannot be self-centred and significantly influence anyone. A self-absorbed person can hardly influence anyone for good. To make the best of the one life that you have, you must live it as a donation to the rest of creation. The best of life always has a way of returning the way of those who give it away. Life sustainably rewards the contributor and has a way of penalizing the perpetual consumer. As you must have observed, the people who earn their wealth do so from those who are simply value consumers. It’s the reason why developing nations are perpetually subjugated to the developed ones.

Great leaders influence others largely because they are   problem-solvers. Influence is the result of doing something for people in an outstanding way that no other person does it. We listen to certain musicians, comedians, watch certain movies and esteem certain actors who solve the problem of our need for quality entertainment. This is largely because of the effect they have on us, even if for a limited period of time.

There is a misguided belief by some that they cannot have a significant influence on others unless they occupy a privileged position. I hate to burst your bubble. If you cannot reach out and make a difference in the lives of others, you are not going to suddenly become an angel simply by having an enhanced platform. Where you are currently is where you need to take responsibility for positively influencing others.

True leadership is an internal dynamic that produces external influence irrespective of location or environment. There is no inappropriate place to make a difference. Greatness is first an inside job before it is an external manifestation. It is first and foremost a disposition before it is a position.

The story of Joseph in the Bible is an instructive one on the subject of influence. Joseph was brought to Portiphar’s house in Egypt as a slave. A study of his story helps us to realign our perceptions and redefine our narratives on what success and influence are. Joseph had been done in and sold into slavery by his own blood brothers. He arrived in the land of his captivity with no dime to his name, no fancy wardrobe and no connections whatsoever with his family. He was a total stranger in the land and situation where he found himself. Within a short time, his master saw something distinct about the quality of his service and his dedication to work. He stood out of the pack. The Bible records that the Lord was with Joseph and he was a successful man in the house of his master the Egyptian! How could a man literally with no identity, money or real estate in the land of his sojourn be described as a successful man? Such a description flies in the face of logic. The only way to explain it must be that true success is more than what a man has or does. The capacity for significant positive influence is not about where you are or what you have or lack. It is about WHO and WHOSE you are! At the heart of Joseph’s success was a God-connection that is so patently deficient in many people. Sometimes, many who have that connection would rather not show it at work because they want to conform to the norm that makes godliness an anathema in the workplace. Denying or discounting the very basis and source of your entrenched value system is a disgrace to that source and a total disservice to whatever those values were intended to communicate. Joseph’s Egyptian master was in no way a godly person. But he was able to identify the superior “presence” and aura of the extraordinary that Joseph through his conduct exuded. Goldfish, as they say, has no hiding place!… continued.

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!

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