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Is Influence The Soul of Leadership?

leadership5As long as there have been leaders, there have been those who tried to determine how and why they were successful. Although I don’t believe leadership itself has changed, our understanding and learning of it has. I believe it is important to understand why very different leadership styles are effective, why the same leadership techniques will not work in every situation, and which leadership style fits our personalities best. In the next few series of posts I want to add to some of my previous posts on the subject of leadership and explore different leadership theories and examine the qualities of a great leader.

I have made the point in previous posts that leaders are made, not born. Some people may indeed be born with more innate leadership abilities and may naturally move into leadership roles, but in truth, we all have the ability if called upon, or if a situation we care about requires it. Take parenting, for example. When a child arrives, many parents discover leadership abilities they never knew they had, in order to guide and protect their children. There are countless war stories of simple soldiers and sailors who rose to a challenge on their own in the heat of battle and became leaders.

A plethora of studies and books have been written on how leadership potential exists within each of us. That potential can be triggered by outside events, or it can be learned by self-examination and developing self-awareness. It is often building confidence in oneself and one’s leadership abilities that allows us to effectively take on leadership roles when we are called to do so. The more experience we have acting as a genuine leader, the easier it becomes. It is never easy to take the lead, as we need to make decisions and face challenges, but overtime and with experience, it can become natural and automatic.

Drucker stated that “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things”.

There is subtle difference here between management and leadership. In my view, Leadership is not telling others what to do, but is inspiring others to do what needs to be done and then giving them the space to do it. Many people around the world who are in “leadership” positions are not leaders. Dictators call themselves leaders but they are not – they are tyrants. There have been many presidents of the United States, but how many were true, effective leaders is up for debate. Genuine leaders take a stand and motivate others to join them in a noble purpose. One such leader was Abraham Lincoln, who ended slavery in the United States. Another was John F. Kennedy, who inspired a nation to go to the moon within a decade. Martin Luther King Jr. had a completely different but no less effective leadership style. What is it that makes a leader, and what separates the good from the great?

Defining Leadership

When previously writing on the subject of defining leadership, my conclusion has been that leadership is different for different people and that individuals must find their own definition as it relates to their own circumstance. However for this post, simply speaking, “leadership” is defined as “the ability to lead.” Unfortunately, this is not very helpful. A better definition comes from the BD online Business Dictionary: “The activity of leading a group of people or an organization or the ability to do this.” Although this is more descriptive, it still doesn’t quite hit the mark: it tells us what leadership does rather than what leadership is.  Leadership is influence. Influence is subtle, yet incredibly powerful. You can order someone to do a task, but you cannot order them to do their best. That rarely works, and usually has the opposite effect. You can influence people to do their best by providing a strong, motivating example in addition to positive reinforcement. Leadership addresses tasks, while influence addresses attitudes and awareness. Influence is the soul of leadership.


John Whitehead, coaches’ individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.

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