It has been quite popular to talk about leadership as influence. While I certainly agree that a leader influences people, the function of leadership is broader, and dare I say “stronger”, than influence.
Influence is defined by Webster’s dictionary as the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways.
If we only see leadership as getting an effect from another person, then calling leadership influence is fine. But, great leadership is so much more.
Influence alone seems passive, if not soft, and misses the heart of leadership in the twenty-first century where people desire, and even expect, a leader who will help them succeed individually. People expect a leader to not just guide and influence thoughts, decisions, and behaviors, but to equip and empower them to strive and reach new levels of achievement. When this occurs, motivation skyrockets and engagement deepens.
There is a word that I have been using that helps me remember the essence of leadership. It is a word that describes strength and action.
The word is Activator.
It is a word that describes the deeper and most important role of a leader.
Activation is a leader’s ability to “turn on” or unleash the best in the people they lead. Activation is a mechanism for identifying and leveraging the uniqueness of each person. It also supports each person as they seek to align their intrinsic motives with the direction of their team and organization.
The job of a leader is not driving performance and helping people survive at work, but to help people thrive. It is calling people to a higher level of work and living. When they do this they know they can expect continued growth and improvement in performance and behavior. Instead of being forced, it is self-directed.
It is very evident in every aspect of our lives that our potential cannot be unleashed on our own. Someone must help. We all need a person or a group of people in our lives that activate us. People who bring out the best in us through support, energy, perspective, validation, encouragement, and accountability.
Activating others is also a fundamental activity that increases our quality of living. It gets to the true core of who we are as humans and the character that, when demonstrated, gives us a sense of satisfaction far greater than any extrinsic reward. Do you remember that deep internal feeling of satisfaction and intrinsic gratification you received the last time you helped someone and didn’t expect anything in return?
That is it!
Image if you were able to create a culture where everyone not only collaborated well, but made a deep committed to bringing out the best in each other? Imagine the impact this kind of organization could have. A culture like this can only be created with a leader who chooses to activate people.
In the new world of work, leadership is not about driving self-serving goals. It is about activating each person’s uniqueness, skill, purpose, and passion in a way that aligns with the team and organizational goals.
When we do this we are more than influencers. We are Activators!