Good leadership always makes a difference; unfortunately, so does bad leadership.
This leadership truth continues as we will be talking about the second of the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: the law of influence.
The true measure of leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.
This simple truth is the most powerful trait a great leader can have: the ability to influence others. People often equate education to leadership, and that you need to be really book-smart to become a great leader. Nothing could be further from the truth, as these facts indicate:
- More than 50% of all CEOs of Fortune 500 companies had C or C- averages in college
- 65% of all U.S. senators came from the bottom half of their school classes
- 75% of U.S. presidents were in the lower-half club in school
- More than 50% of millionaire entrepreneurs never finished college
Now this is not to diminish the value of higher education or say that great leaders are not smart; quite the opposite. But great leaders and entrepreneurs tend to fall on the creative side and become bored easily with the mundane, such as sitting in classrooms, and spending hours upon hours doing homework. They feel their time is better spent on higher-level thinking and doing, and in some cases feel that they know more than the professors (which they normally do!).
A continuing theme in this series, and the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, is that leadership is not title or position—it’s influence. Early in my leadership journey I believed leadership was all about me; then I shifted and pretended it was all about them, but I still secretly still thought it was all about me. Many years later I realized it was all about them; it’s influence, and that comes from adding value to others. Servant leadership is all about adding value to others, where the leader’s goal is to serve. While the organizational chart may show all the folks who work for you, servant leadership means that you actually work for them. My good friend, motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, summed it up nicely:
“You can have what you want…if you will help enough other people get what they want.”
Poor leaders always have a difficult time understanding this, which is probably why they are poor leaders. Learning to ask, “How can I help you?” instead of “What can you do for me?” is the first step to becoming a great leader. I firmly believe that one of the problems with leadership is there are so many myths, particularly when it comes to influence. Here are the “Five Myths of Influence.”
1. The Management Myth
As discussed in prior installments, people often get management and leadership mixed up. Management can be a part of leadership, but just because you can manage something efficiently doesn’t mean you can lead. Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. Management is efficiency, control, and managed risks; leadership is direction, enthusiasm, inspiration, and influence. People often think they’re the same thing but they’re really not; monitoring what time people come into work, how long they have for lunch, that sort of thing is not the same thing as leading an inspired team united in pursuit of a challenging goal—is it?
2. The Entrepreneur Myth
The prevailing thought is that entrepreneurs make great leaders, right? But if you stop and think about it, that makes no logical sense whatsoever. Just because someone identified a market need and moved quickly to exploit an opportunity doesn’t make them a leader. That’s a totally different skillset than leadership. An entrepreneur may be brilliant and a visionary, but that’s not leadership; what’s missing is care for others.
3. The Knowledge Myth
This is a classic myth: information is power and therefore whoever has the power is a great leader because leadership equals power, right? Wrong. Leadership equals influence: you can’t force people to follow you, they have to want to.
4. The Pioneer Myth
This again is a popular fallacy. Just because someone got there first or is out in front means they are a leader; wrong again. Once you can appreciate that leadership is a separate, distinct skillset this becomes crystal clear.
5. The Position Myth
I think this is the biggest misconception of all, and the most dangerous because it is so common. So many people think that it’s position that makes you a leader: give me the position, the title, and the corner office, and then people will listen to me! It’s not position that makes the leader, it’s the leader that makes the position.
I will close with a timeless quote from a leader that truly gets it:
“Being in power is like being a lady, if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t. - Margaret Thatcher
- The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, by John C. Maxwell, published by HarperCollins Leadership, 2007.
Steve Williams is an independent certified coach, trainer and speaker with the John Maxwell team.
This column originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of PCB007 Magazine.