I’ve spent many years trying to learn how to lead others well but have ultimately realized that it doesn’t matter how much I know about leadership- If I don’t have influence then I can only go so far.
In most cases, I haven’t had the influence. I can recall being confused when coaches, teachers, and church group leaders would be disappointed that I wasn’t able to transfer my discipline or passion to teammates or group members. Even when I tried to explain to them that the individuals in the group surrounding me or in the group that I was a part of had different motivations and/or interests, they still didn’t seem to understand. Although I did what I could do to provide support and encouragement to my peers without crossing boundaries and stepping on toes, even if these gestures were appreciated, they didn’t translate into whatever results these coaches/teachers/church group leaders were hoping to see (or even what I was hoping to see). In fact, it was very apparent to me that my peers did not want to be led by me and were actually looking for guidance from those they viewed as being in charge- the same individuals pushing me to somehow inspire a transformation in others. These expectations from leaders (and peers at times) left me puzzled even if it was encouraging to know that people I looked up to saw my leadership potential or a few of my peers were willing to admit that they thought that I was a good role model. Looking back, I wish that some of these leaders would have actually shown me how to do what it was they were asking of me (i.e. lead people who didn’t want to be led…by me) but at least I was given the opportunity to learn about how influence, particularly my influence, works.
This past year I have come to terms with the reality that I am only meant to influence a limited group of people or specific type of person... at the right time. It doesn’t mean that I am unable to lead people, organizations, teams, etc. What it means is that, when it comes to inspiring people and making a difference, my influence is limited or usually builds gradually over long periods of time. The peers that I was asked to lead/inspire did at some point, usually after a few years, respond to my support and encouragement. However, this was usually because they had learned over time, and had finally decided, to lead themselves. In some circumstances, my support and encouragement had the unintended consequence of leading to friendly or not-so-friendly competition. I didn’t take it personally though. Sometimes that’s just how it happens.
If you are someone that wants to lead people well but also realize that you have limited influence then it may seem like you may be wasting your time developing your leadership skills. As long as you have the interest in learning then there is no harm in continuing to do just that. If you are questioning whether or not you should continue to invest your time and energy in activities that you hope will help you strengthen your leadership skills then it may be time to take a step back. Reflect on why you want to lead, who you want to lead, how you want to lead, and who/what has inspired you to lead. Afterwards, it may be helpful to assess whether or not you are at a place where you can emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually lead well. Lastly, it is always important to reflect on whether or not you can follow well. When I am able to empower leaders or encourage them in a meaningful way it always energizes and refreshes me. Don't dismiss the fact that strong leaders are also able to serve as great followers and supporters.
Questions to ponder:
1. What comes to mind when you hear the word "influence"?
2. Would you say that you are a natural influencer? Why or why not?
3. What types of people influence you and why?
This blog series is focused on Goals.
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