Influence, not Authority

An inexperienced young leader might think that they know best. They might think that they have all the right answers and that everyone should just follow what they say. I know, because when I first was in a leadership position that’s how I thought. And my time in the United States Marines Corps often reinforced that belief. But I was misguided and mistaken. And I will illustrate how I was wrong through the following examples:


The Game

Imagine your favorite sports game. Maybe that’s soccer, football, basketball or something else. Now think of the very best player in that sport you know. That person may be the best player in the entire world. They may be absolutely fantastic with millions of fans. But how well would they do on their own without the team?

The reality is that they would lose every single game as a lone player. They may be the best, but a team of average players is always going to beat the best player if he or she is alone. Why do we think it’s any different for business? It isn’t.

The Team

A well-functioning team is always going to do better than a lone genius dictating orders. It’s important for leaders to recognize this. Some leaders think too highly of themselves. They may be a genius. But it takes so much more than a genius to build an incredible company. As a leader, it’s important to be humble and learn from your employees. Listen to them. Listen so well that you are molded by them. When you are wrong, admit it! Be open. Leaders often say that it’s lonely at the top. But it really isn’t if you are doing it right.

Being a great leader is about building mutual respect with your team. It’s never about barking orders out of a position of authority (leave that to the drill instructors). If you can build that mutual respect, then you can lead from a place of influence. Below are three ways to help build trust and respect with your team.

Listen to your Employees

Every leader will likely say that they listen to their employees. But are they really? When I say listen I mean something deeper than simply hearing others. Leaders should listen to truly understand their employees. Then they should be willing to be molded by what those employees tell them. You will be surprised by what you can learn during meetings, group or individual conversations and daily interactions if you allow yourself to be present and listen.

As humans, we can only directly see about 70% of our bodies. If we have something embarrassing in our teeth we either need a mirror or other people to tell us about it. The same goes for our personality. There are flaws in our personality that we can’t see.  We need other people to share it with us. It isn’t easy to truly listen to people when they are sharing our flaws. But that’s when we need to listen more than ever because that is the first step to improving the problems.

Find Great Mentors

To be a great leader, you need great mentors. You need wise people who have already gone down this journey in life. And the more wise mentors you have the better leader you can become. The reason is that humans have a wonderful ability to learn lessons from each other. We don’t need to make all the same mistakes that others have before us. Instead, let them share with you what those mistakes were and learn how to avoid them. Great leaders are life-long learners and stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before them.

Be Humble

There is something about the role of a leader that sometimes makes the leader think they are better than everyone else. First off, that is not true at all. But secondly, it’s a recipe for failure. Pride comes before the fall. It takes a great team to succeed at business (and I am blessed to have the pleasure of working for just such a team). Great employees don’t want to work for a prideful boss. So eventually that boss will lose their good team and their company will fall into chaos. Great leaders avoid this by being humble. They take the blame for failure and give away the credit for success.

Lead with Influence, not Authority

Great leaders recognize that it takes a great team to be successful. So, they lead from a place of influence instead of authority. And by doing that they can start to make a positive impact on their company and the world. They inspire the people they work with to do and be more, not by telling them what to do or how to do it, but by inspiring them to maximize their individual inputs and strengths, ultimately contributing to the success of a winning team or organization.


Questions of the week:

  • How do you typically lead?
  • What are the benefits of having a mentor?
  • What are the benefits of being a mentor?
  • How well are you listening to (hearing) your employees?

Take the time to honestly and thoughtfully answer these questions. Share your thoughts and ideas with your team and your leaders, your family, and your friends.

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Kris Klinger is an accomplished visionary and leader. He lives in Downtown Los Angeles and is a staff and faculty member at the University of Southern California. Kris is passionate about nurturing and supporting strong servant-leader and employee-centric cultures. Cultivating transparency and trust; honest and candid communication; personal and professional development; individual and team empowerment. He is also an author working on his first book.

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