Leadership is…

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Leadership is influence.

I first heard that statement in 1984 from John Maxwell. I was 24 and just a few years into my professional life. Little did I realize how significantly those words would shape my own leadership adventure now almost 40 years down the line.

Like me, I’m sure you’ve seen numerous definitions of leadership throughout the course of your life and career. Some short, and some mind-numbingly long and complex. None of them, however, distill the concept of leadership as effectively as John’s single word focus.

Today I’d like to go “back to basics” and offer three quick but important observations about influence.

First, we all have influence. When humans interact, they affect each other, even if in very small ways. This effect we have on each other represents influence at its most basic level.

Given John’s definition, this means that all of us are leaders. It doesn’t matter what we do for a living or whether we manage people. We all have families, friends, clients and co-workers who we deal with daily. This is our “sphere” of influence – the place where our leadership is expressed.

This idea may be new for some. I’ve found that many people assume that in order to be a leader you have to have a team, but that’s not the case. Some of the people who have influenced and impacted my leadership life the most never had one.

Second, influence by nature isn’t neutral. It’s either positive or negative depending on how we exercise it. Once we’re aware of this, it becomes our responsibility to ensure that our influence is positive and that we are adding value to those in our spheres.

The good news is – and this is my third point – we can absolutely improve our influence, and thus our leadership! The first step in doing this is to realize that true leadership begins with who we are as individuals and not what we do for a living. This may seem counterintuitive, but it is a critical realization nonetheless.

This week, invest a few minutes thinking about those in your sphere of influence. Write down the top few names that come to mind. Focus on who they are to you as opposed to what they do for you.

For each of those people, ask yourself the question – what one thing can I do for each of them this week that would “inject” some positive influence into thier lives? Then follow through with each of them to make sure that happens.

At the end of the day – the people in our lives and the relationships that they represent are the foundation of our leadership and our long-term impact. Exercise your influence well this week.

I hope that you all have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend. See you next week!

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  1. I like it that you bring up we are all leaders. We all influence others whether we are aware of it or not. Since we are either a positive or negative influence on others, it makes sense that we start by leading ourself. Great message!

  2. Everyone leads a little differently, but I believe that you’re right! It all comes back to influence and using that sphere of influence to promote the quality of life for those around you!

    Thanks for sharing!

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