In a previous article on leadership, we described how “leadership” differs from “management” and we offered the simple but clear definition that “leadership equals influence.” Given this definition, it becomes obvious that leadership is not a skill that is only useful to individuals in supervisory or management positions. In fact, it is just as applicable to our personal lives as it is to the job world.
A typical person finds more than four opportunities to influence others every day, both inside and outside of work. Taking advantage of these opportunities to influence, and building our leadership skills in a variety of contexts, enables us to develop the traits and skills of authentic leadership. These characteristics then pay off by making us more effective and agile in our leadership in the workplace, leading to a stronger and more profitable organization.
One of the most obvious areas where we might want to exert influence is within our family—especially if we have children. Small children can be easier to guide, but as they pass through the challenging teenage years and begin establishing their independence, children become more resistant to accepting direction. On the other hand, a relationship that is based on leadership or influence can provide a stronger bridge to maintain the relationship as children cross through their teenage years.
Other areas where we might want to exert influence are in our communities, organizations, and churches/ministries. For example, if we are in a position to mentor young couples in their marriages, the ability to influence provides weight behind our words of advice. Or if we want to change the direction of our community, effective use of our influencing skills can gather and motivate followers of a like mind.
In the workplace, it is easy to view supervisory positions as a platform that requires leadership or influencing skills. Of course, influence and empowerment leads to intrinsic rewards for workers, which many studies have shown propels them to achieve higher levels of productivity and quality than simply “command and control” management methods. But the usefulness of leadership skills extends well beyond the supervisory positions.
With many workplace cultures moving to team-based organizations, workers have numerous opportunities to use their influence to encourage collaboration with co-workers or to sell ideas to others. In a team environment we want each member to have a voice and the ability to influence the team so that we can benefit from the best thoughts of all team members. There are also many jobs that, while they have no supervisory responsibilities, still have a need for influence. One of the most obvious is a sales position, where the ability to influence can reap rewards in terms of trust and relationships with customers, which in turn increases sales performance.
As you can see, substitution of the word “influence” for “leadership” immediately brings to mind many areas—both personal and professional—where leadership development would result in greater success and more goals achieved. Leadership skills facilitate the development of healthier relationships in all aspects of our lives. Therefore, leadership is not just a job skill, it is a life skill.
If leadership is a life skill with such broad application, then it should be a skill that we continually develop. On a daily basis we build experience and wisdom that we might pass on to others, but leadership skills do not generally just appear and there is no defined state of completion. Development of our leadership skills must therefore be intentional, and should be a lifelong process.
We have defined leadership as influence, but just what is it that enables a leader to influence? What are the skills and traits that define a good leader and how can you begin to develop these skills? Next month’s leadership article will begin to define the makings of leadership using the analogy of a structure.
Ken is a business strategy consultant and leadership coach. His passion is helping companies and people grow and succeed. With an engineering degree and an MBA, he spent more than 20 years working in M&A and business development in the corporate world before founding New Horizon Partners, Inc. in 2002. His consulting practice works with a wide variety of industrial companies, helping them make good decisions about where and how to compete and building their leadership capabilities. To read other articles by Ken on business strategy and leadership, visit the New Horizon Partners website.