People can debate where and how Influential Leadership starts. Where does it come from? Who’s drawn to a leader and why? However, one thing that’s beyond debate is this: true leadership – the type of leadership that effectively and productively influences others – begins with character.
And is there any doubt that character begins with integrity? Unless they’re somehow deceived, good people won’t follow a leader who’s not a person of strong character. And even if fooled for a season, one cannot fake genuine integrity for any significant period of time. There are too many situations that arise in leadership not to have a person’s true character revealed. The pressure of daily leadership decisions and activities exposes what’s on the inside. When you squeeze a piece of fruit, what comes out is juice. It has to. It’s an immutable law of physics. A grape can’t deny its “grapeness.”
By the same token, what’s inside a person comes out when under pressure. If she is a person of strong character, it’s revealed in the squeeze of the daily grind. If he isn’t an individual of upright character, that too is exposed over time. Integrity is all about making sure that one’s actions are aligned with their words. Do they act in a way that’s congruent with what they say? And are they consistent enough that those people around them – family, colleagues, friends – can depend on them. Are they reliable, standing the tests of time and challenges? “Reliable” is a great word to break down. “Re” simply means again and again. “Liable” is actually a legal term. If you’re “liable” for the traffic accident, that means you’re responsible for damages. Therefore, “re-liable” simply means one is “responsible again and again”…to the point people can count on it.
If you tell someone you’ll follow up and get back with them by 5:00pm the next day, can they count on it? When tomorrow at 5:00pm rolls around, you’ve provided the information they need. Or if you need more time, by 4:55pm you’ve called/texted/emailed letting them know the status and when you’ll deliver. When this behavior is exhibited over and over, people realize your word is golden and they can count on you. Conversely, if you don’t come through many people will extend grace the first time, perhaps even twice. Any more than that, today people are quick to say, “Well, that’s just who he is. I’ll be surprised if/when he delivers on time in the future.” These thoughts and feelings, whether positive or negative, are all about integrity.
Another pillar of character that’s closely related to integrity is authenticity. Are you a genuine person and can other people sense that? Are you open, honest, candid? Or after you promise something, are people quick to think, “I’ll believe it when I see it?” Are co-workers naturally skeptical of things you say and rightfully so based on their past experiences with you? Being authentic involves transparency, even when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient. The Influential Leader is an open book and isn’t afraid to admit she doesn’t know everything. In fact, this leader understands that credibility is built by admitting she doesn’t have all the answers and relies on the team for collective expertise.
The authentic leader is an advocate of the team, readily accepting blame while deflecting praise back to his colleagues. This concept is so counterintuitive that if most people knew upfront this characteristic is a significant quality of a true leader, they wouldn’t accept the role. In fact, far too many “leaders” do just the opposite – want all the praise and none of the blame. These people aren’t leaders at all; they’re barely managers and don’t fully understand the importance of functional team dynamics. The truly Influential Leader is authentic in her dealings with others. Always. Without exception. And the people around her grow to trust and count on her character. She is constantly and consistently seeking what’s best for her team, even when it’s difficult. Especially when it’s difficult.
Clearly this type of authenticity requires a healthy perspective on humility. Easily one of the most misunderstood words in the English language, humility isn’t weakness. Quite the opposite. The humble leader understands ego, both within self and others. Influential Leaders are secure enough to hold up others while taking a step back when appropriate. Good people value humble leadership.
A popular phrase these days is servant leadership, but many individuals have a distorted opinion of what it really means. It’s not helping people for the endgame of self-promotion. Instead, it’s about humbly serving others for their edification and the efficacy of the team. The humble leader understands this simple equation: We > Me. If the team wins, we all win. Not a hard concept, yet it eludes so many individuals in leadership positions who crave the spotlight. If more leaders understood the power of humility and applied it, far fewer workers would dread Monday morning.
Finally, consider the relationship between humility and gratitude. It’s hard to determine where one stops and the other starts. The humble heart is typically filled with gratitude. Show me a grateful person and you’ll usually find that person with a healthy sense of humility. What naturally flows from a humble, grateful heart? Giving. All too often, people hear “giving” and think money. It’s so much more than that. The Influential Leader gives her time, effort, energy, experience and resources. Her giving is an outgrowth of integrity, authenticity and humility. She recognizes others before herself, freely giving encouragement and recognition. People instinctively gravitate toward giving individuals, especially when in a leadership capacity.
Isn’t there a magnetic attraction to the person known as a giver, rather than the masses known for taking? Colleagues have their cups filled by a giving leader, but drained by managers who routinely take. And the draining manager is far too common in today’s business world. The Influential Leader also recognizes the gift of giving doesn’t stop when he leaves the office, Family members and friends feel the gravitational pull of a giving heart over a take-first mentality. It’s one of the paramount characteristics of the Growth Mindset versus the Fixed Mindset. Simply put, the Growth Mindset gives from a posture of abundance (“There’s plenty for everyone”); the Fixed Mindset takes from a position of scarcity (“There’s not enough to go around”).
Influential Leaders understand the fundamental importance of integrity, authenticity, humility and giving. For some, each quality comes naturally. For most, these essential characteristics have been learned over time through study and practice. Regardless, it’s hard to be a truly effective leader and be lacking in any of these four components. In reality, they’re somewhat sequential – one leads to the next, one is built on a foundation of the one that precedes it. To influence others in a positive way and be a more effective leader, start with integrity, authenticity, humility and giving. Don’t be surprised when people are instinctively drawn to you through these four pillars.
What do you think?