Leadership is influence. Nothing more. Nothing less.
It is estimated that each of us will influence at least 10,000 other people during our lifetime. Listen: The question is not whether you will influence. The question, my friends, is how you will use your influence.
My 30-plus years in health care have been focused on helping teams and leaders be better tomorrow than they are today. The last 10 years of my executive coaching practice has shown interesting trends in conversations about leadership and followership. I’ve seen the desire to be a good leader — but the competencies and skills to develop and influence others and create followership are somewhat lacking or misunderstood.
What many people don’t understand is that before you can ever begin to influence and lead others, you must be able to lead yourself. By this, I mean understanding your own values, preferences, biases, self-talk and leadership ability.
You can start to gain this understanding by asking good questions — of yourself and of those around you.
A provocative question such as “Why should I grow as a leader?” can elicit a lively internal dialogue. When I ask myself this question, I think, “Because I don’t want to stagnate and become an ineffective leader.” I recall ineffective leaders I’ve experienced. Those memories emphasize that leaders have a tremendous impact on every aspect of a team: engagement, morale, retention, vision, conflict, communication and, most important, trust!
So, what should you be thinking about?
Set aside some time to reflect. Grab a journal and pen or the notes function on your favorite device.
Questions for yourself
Go deep into your motives and what drives you. Be honest about your behaviors and what you stand for.
It’s important to ask questions that “wake up” your brain and make you pause for honest reflection. Ask yourself:
- What motivates me to lead well?
- What parts of my leadership role do I enjoy?
- What acts as a barrier to leading well?
- In what areas has my progress stalled?
- Did I impact the people around me positively, negatively or neutrally today?
- Am I developing others and cultivating conditions that challenge and allow them to grow?
- Am I using my leadership to advocate for a position that benefits others?
- Am I using my influence to promote or protect myself?
Next, seek feedback on how others experience you. Understand the difference between your intent and your impact. They aren’t always the same.
Questions for others
To create two-way dialogues that focus on trust and collaboration, consider asking those who report to you or work closely with you the following:
- Is there anything that I’ve done in the last year that has created a burden or barrier for you to do your best work?
- What are three things that you believe are important to me?
- Where are we going? (This is to check to see if you’ve articulated the vision and big picture to others.)
- Where are you going? (This is to explore your colleague’s vision, goals and priorities and to gauge your colleague’s alignment with the organization.)
- What suggestions do you have for me?
Author and leadership expert John Maxwell has written, “Without leadership ability, a person’s impact is only a fraction of what it could be with good leadership. The higher you want to climb, the more you need leadership. The greater the impact you want to make, the greater your influence needs to be. Whatever you will accomplish is restricted by your ability to lead others.”
Think about it. Leadership matters. Your influence matters.