Leadership is Influence

Note Card 4

By Jim Porto

Literally thousands of books and articles have been written on the subject of leadership. Dozens of definitions have been offered and even more models have been proposed: multiple trait models, varying skill models, style models, situational models, contingency models, leader-member exchange models, transactional and transformational models. Yet, even though we do not know exactly what leadership is or how to define it, like Justice Stewart who defined pornography as “I know it when I see it,” most of us know leadership when we see it.

I believe that we are trying too hard to unravel the mystic of leadership. Leadership at its most basic is the ability to influence others. Individuals believe and act certain ways through a process of decision making (both conscious and sub-conscious). To change our ways we must (1) be convinced to do so and (2) translate that intellectual conviction into behavioral change. This two-step process is not always visible in routine decisions but becomes painfully obvious when we try to change bad habits. We can make the decision to change (for example quit smoking) but find it extremely hard to translate that intellectual decision to behavior.

Leadership is exercised when one person convinces another person of something or persuades another person to change behavior. The ability to influence others is cultivated in many ways: influence by example, by reasoning, by reputation, by expertise, and so on. Force can also be used to influence-force of will as well as physical force. Xenophon had to whip his troops to force them to continue marching to the Black Sea on the March of the 10 Thousand, which saved their lives.

When influence is used negatively, it is always for personal or political gain. When influence is used positively, it is always for a larger, public good and for the sustainability of the group. This leads to the notion of negative leadership (tyranny, cults) and positive leadership (self-determination, enlightenment).

This view of leadership means that we all exert leadership to the extent that we influence others. Our most visible leaders are the ones who most obviously influence others because they have more capabilities and resources at their disposal.

Published in: on October 4, 2007 at 11:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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