The true character of a man is known by what he does when under pressure, when no one is looking, or when there is no restraint on his capacity. A man’s conduct in any of these conditions is an indication of the entrenched values code that shapes his life and response to situations.
I have been privileged to visit five of the six inhabited continents and have interacted with people from all six. In all my interactions with people everywhere, one thing stands out as a universal truism. People love to be treated right, not because they share your views or sentiments on any subject or your tribal or ethnic affiliations, but because everyone desires to be respected until they prove that they are not respectable! Influence is therefore a universal currency. Where positive impact is made, influence is birthed. You can wield influence anywhere and everywhere you find yourself.
The kind of value that engenders influence knows no racial, tribal or religious boundaries. Joseph did not diminish his value-addition capacity because his boss was an Egyptian. The late Madiba Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years of his life in jail and only one term as President of South Africa. He was universally celebrated and is still regarded as one of the greatest leaders to come out of the twentieth century. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist preacher and son of a preacher. He lived at the height of racial discrimination in the United States of America. So he was not one you could call privileged. But in the short period that he lived, he championed a cause that got the world to understand the injustices inherent in race relations in America. He, more than any other person, brought the attention of the world to the Civil Rights Movement. His speeches are still used all over the world as material for students of public communication. Today, a national holiday is named after him in the very country that initially persecuted him! Jesus was a Jew. Mohammed was an Arab. Their influences cut across human boundaries
Influential leadership does not answer to position. It defines and determines it. It is not unusual for people to put the title before the function. The headlight-hugging leader is always hungry for recognition and accolades. He seeks these in titles and serial awards that he gladly pays heavily for. The man of influence on the other hand derives his legitimacy from value contributed, not what they call him. ‘Baptist’ was not the surname or acquired title of John the Baptist. It is a description of his function. Influence is generated by what you do with and for people, not the title you bear. I know several organizations where high-sounding titles are created before anyone has drawn up a schedule of duties for them! When this happens, people are more attracted to the position and the attendant perks than the actual deliverables of the office. To avoid the tendency for irresponsibility, it is better to have the schema of function in place before you start to create offices with titles.
It is common knowledge in corporate circles and indeed in life that someone with a high Emotional Quotient – a capacity to relate well with others in and out of work – makes faster progress on upward-bound rungs of the corporate ladder than those with a high Intelligence Quotient whose only virtue is the intimidating academic credential that they parade. ‘Intelligent’ is not necessarily synonymous with ‘smart’.
The influence of a leader stands on the platform of unassailable core values. These values in turn are anchored on a deep spiritual essence that sustains not only the leader’s vision but also the process of attaining it. Joseph, when seduced by his master’s wife, even when nobody was looking, spoke about his responsibility to his master and how he could not think of betraying the trust the latter reposed in him. He could have succumbed and enjoyed the pleasure of that compromise for a season. Compromise or a values somersault may confer temporary advantages or pleasure on him but it is a disservice to a leader’s sustainable influence. We live in a world where the line between right and wrong is becoming more and more opaque. The world desperately needs men and women of steely resolve who will not sell their soul for immediate gain at the expense of a more elevating outcome. Joseph fled from his master’s wife but ended up being thrown into prison because it was his word against hers. It was a no-brainer. The master believed his wife and condemned his slave. It is better to suffer indignity for your convictions than to enjoy temporary promotion and acclaim for your compromise. Life always has a way, no matter how long it takes, of vindicating the upright. When leaders take a stand on a matter, they also raise a standard by which their outcomes are assessed. Not to stand for something is to fall for anything.
The reward of hard work is more work, so says the popular aphorism. If you want anything done well, give it to the man who is already productively busy because he has a track record of responsibility. A life of influence therefore readily attracts responsibility, recognition and ultimately, reward. Even in prison, the character streak of responsibility and a strong value system based on his God-connection got him easily distinguished and he was promoted above other prisoners and he started deploying his talent and skills in the service of others! In the process of time, these traits took him before Pharaoh, the highest authority in the land who, in recognition of the distinctive qualities of the slave boy cum prisoner, elevated him above every person except Pharaoh himself in Egypt! In one moment of significant influence, the slave became superior to his master!
By reason of their strong value system, highly influential leaders operate with boundaries. Instead of engaging in a rat race for prominence at all cost – something that still leaves every participant a rat at the end of the race – they always know where to draw the line. This is what occasions their distinction. Boundaries are demarcators of capacity or entitlement. Joseph knew where to draw the line in his relationship with his master’s wife even though he had been given authority over his master’s domestic affairs. No matter how influential you become, you must never forget that leadership is a trust. You will need to earn it. When those inspired by your life lose trust in you, your credibility and influence nosedive. Secondly, you must never forget that influence is nothing but an opportunity and privilege that others give you to take charge of a certain area of need in their lives. If you are an actor they admire, it is a privilege to fill the gap of their need for entertainment. If you are a superior that they voluntarily defer to, it is a privilege to fill their need for inspiration or guidance.
If you want to remain on the cutting edge of your game and function, you must never betray their confidence in your capacity…continued.
Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!