Leadership is Primarily About Influence
Randy Wolken, President & CEO

Leadership is not about position. At first, it appears to be. But, over the medium and long term, I have learned that it is almost exclusively about influence. If a person is good at influencing, they can be good at leading. Learn to influence and you will learn to lead.

Influence is a tough concept to grasp and to teach as a skill. How do you even do this? You don’t. You must demonstrate it or tell stories that illustrate how it works. Why is this? Because we resist being told how to do our work or that we must change how we are currently doing it. A different approach is needed.

As humans, we primarily learn and change by observing what others do. We are wired to change and evolve in this way. This is why good modeling is critical for parents and guardians. It is also essential for leaders.

As a leader, we must show others how change occurs. In fact, we need two elements. We need a compelling reason to change and we need a belief that we can do it. Without both, we will likely not make the change. Seeing others do it is the best way to demonstrate that it can be done. A field trip to see others do it works great. Our MACNY Councils and Individual Membership offerings are modern, professional versions of the field trips we all took in school. They can have tremendous influence on our ability to change. The next best thing is a compelling story that both illustrates the change and demonstrates the need for change. Good leaders live the change, take their teams to see others change, or tell stories about change. Simply telling people to change has been shown to be far less effective—and my personal experiences agree.

So, why do we erroneously think that change is best accomplished by telling others what to do? It is easier, quicker, and what we have seen done in the past. We are modeling what we have been shown. No one ever told us just how ineffective this method is for so many change efforts.

Let me give you an example. MACNY uses what many of our members use – scorecards. We keep track of major outcomes like a manufacturing facility does. Getting our team to adopt scorecards was a major change effort. Service work is harder to measure than production of a radar or fine furniture. It is not as tangible. But service and change initiatives can be measured. At first, we did not know how. So, we needed to see others do it – our members – so we could know that it was important and doable. Then we needed to show we could do it. As the top leader, I led the effort of implementation. We used simple team examples to start and then evolved them into other parts of our business. We use our stories of success to instruct new staff members. It is all a part of the story of MACNY’s success today. We keep score so we can serve members better. As a leader, I used influence effectively to adopt this key strategy. Telling them to do it would not have worked.

Great leaders are great modelers of behavior and great storytellers. In essence, they are great at influencing, not telling others what to do. Research and behavior science has proven this to be true. It’s up to us to get good at these approaches.

How skilled are you at influencing others? Are you an effective implementor of the change you want to see from others in your own life? Are you an effective storyteller? Do you share examples of the changes you’re looking to implement with your teammates? Which leaders do you look up to? Are they great storytellers and change agents? All good questions to help us learn how to be more effective as leaders.