Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why Influence Matters More Than Leadership

For most of my life I have been fascinated by leadership. When I was a child all of my heroes were famous people who were leaders in their respective endeavors. I was mesmerized by iconic individuals like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; John F. Kennedy; Arthur Ashe; Henry Ford; Franklin D. Roosevelt; Mahatma Gandhi; Lew Alcindor; Cassius Clay and others who used diverse styles to lead very different groups of people toward extremely difficult goals. I was fascinated by their success. However, at that time in my life I could not understand why some people holding leadership positions succeeded and others failed.

I learned a great deal more about leadership later in life because I had the honor of serving as the President and/or Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of 10 organizations. These positions convinced me that leadership is one of the most important subjects in the world.  Leadership plays a vitally important role in every aspect of human society and life.  Health, education, the environment, religion, science, business, government, nonprofits, families and basic human interaction are all directly affected by leadership in one way or another. 

Effective leaders can improve the quality of life for every human being on earth while ineffective leaders can create global chaos. Since the right leader can inspire followers to cure disease, eradicate poverty, sustain the environment, increase employment, eliminate illiteracy, reduce crime and bring about global peace it is essential, for the good of humanity, to understand the foundation of successful leadership.

Several years ago I began the process of learning as much as I could about leadership. I read many books and papers, observed leaders at all levels of society and studied a great variety of organizations dedicated to the study of leadership or the training of leaders. My goal was to figure out what makes a leader successful. To my surprise this analysis taught me much more about success in life than I ever imagined it could. In my research I uncovered some amazing secrets about successful human interaction.

I have always been fascinated by word definitions. In my review of the definitions of common leadership terms I was surprised to discover that one word connected all of the traditional definitions of leadership. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a “Leader” as “a person who has commanding authority or influence.” “Authority” is defined as “power to influence or command thought, opinion or behavior.” “Command” is defined as “exercising a dominating influence over.” Since a person’s authority and ability to command is driven by influence it is logical to conclude that the relative success of a leader is determined by the extent of their influence over others. In other words “Leadership is driven by influence.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “Influence” as “The act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command.” This definition forced me to examine whether influence was more than the foundation of leadership. I therefore spent a great deal of time studying the role of influence both on the world and in my life.

In doing this research I discovered how important influence was to the lives of every person on earth. Influence “produced” many of the most important “effects” both in everyday activities and major human events. However, I was amazed to discover that there was little substantive research on both the role of influence in daily life and major historical events.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “Theory” as “the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another.” I developed “Intelligent Influence Theory” based on my analysis of a set of facts about the amazing relationship of influence to individual and organizational success.

This unique blog will expose the role of influence in some of the most popular subjects in the world. My hope is that regular readers will learn to use the power of "Intelligent Influence" to become better leaders and enhance their success both at home and at work.


  1. James Hunter, a training consultant and author of The Servant, defines a leader as: "A person of character who is skilled in influencing and inspiring others to enthusiastically contribute their hearts, minds and other resources toward goals identified as being for the common good."

    Hunter explains that the most effective leader is a morally aware individual who focuses on serving others and helping them to succeed, rather than simply handing down decisions.

  2. I’m looking forward to what I can learn from where this blog space goes. As a public sector employee, and I know I am not alone in feeling this way, I find it difficult to try to make a difference by following my heart (and decades of experience) in an environment that is overly focused on influence at the expense of sound leadership. In this case, the influence component of the equation is unfortunately guided more by influence ON our leaders than by the influence OF our leaders. At the line and staff level, we are unable to bring sound planning and reason to the table because doing so has the potential to interfere with political agendas, egos and plain old grandstanding. With the fear of being Schundlerized, we have become indoctrinated to remain silent, when suggesting or trying to do the right thing.

    As Dale said, “[e]ffective leaders can improve the quality of life for every human being on earth while ineffective leaders can create global chaos.” The reverse of that may also me true. Perhaps the extent of global chaos is a metric for the ineffectiveness of leadership. While the chaos in New Jersey State government may not have reached global proportions (yet), the current state of affairs is certainly a spotlight on leadership issues.