I often hear leaders, particularly younger ones, complaining about their lack of control in various situations. “If only the sales department reported to me, I could consistently hit my budget,” they lament. Or, “If the production department reported to me, I would not have run out of inventory!”
What they are really saying is, “If I could control these people, I could guarantee the results.”
Leadership is about influence, not control. I am not the first person to make this observation, but it is worth repeating. The truth is that control is an illusion. You can’t control anyone, even the people that report to you.
However, while you can’t control anyone (except perhaps yourself), you can influence nearly everyone. This is the essence of true leadership.
Aspiring leaders would do well to stop focusing on control and figure out how to expand their influence. Here are four ways you can become a person of influence, no matter your position in your organization:
- Focus on yourself. “If we could change ourselves,” Gandhi said, “the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” Or as Saint Seraphim of Sarov said, “Save yourself, and you will save a thousand around you.”
Modeling is the most powerful form of teaching known to man. If you aren’t “walking your talk,” you dramatically lessen your influence. People have a hard time following leaders who say one thing and do another.
- Take the initiative. Whiners are passive. They sit back and complain. They focus on what others should have done rather than what they themselves could have done.
Real leaders don’t have time to play the blame-game. Instead, they look for opportunities to take initiative and take action. There is always something you could be doing to influence the outcome.
- Cast the vision. Oftentimes people don’t do what we want, because we have not invested the time to paint the vision.
In my experience, people want a challenge. They want to do something significant. They are eager to help. But no one has given them a compelling vision of a new reality. If you consider yourself a leader, this is your job.
- Appreciate the effort. At the end of the day, everyone is a volunteer. Yes, even the people who report to you. They have more options than you think. If you don’t appreciate them, someone else will.
People want to give their best effort to those who notice. Time and time again, I have witnessed the power of a simple “thank you.” If this is true for those who report to you, it is even more true of those who don’t.
Sure, it would be easier if the whole world stood ready to do our bidding. But that’s not an option, nor is it really even desirable. If we’re going to make a difference, we are going to have to sharpen our leadership skills and get better at wielding our influence.
Thankfully, everyday is an opportunity to improve this important skill.
Question: Have you ever worked with someone who focused more on control than influence (or have you been that person)? How did it work out for them/you?