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Influence like a leader or like a boss.

Author, speaker, trainer and leadership guru John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less. Leadership is influence.” Author and management guru Ken Blanchard says, “The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.”

So what is influence? The definition I like to use is, “The capacity to have an effect on the character, development of behavior of someone or something.” Some synonyms would be, “Affect, impact, guide, shape, alter, determine, change, transform.”

Influence is a neutral term. It is not positive or negative, good or bad, more desirable or less desirable, until you decide how you are going to think about it and use it.

You can think about influence with another person, or influence over another person. You can influence through inspiration, or through intimidation. You can influence through compassion, cooperation, communication and collaboration or you can influence through coercion. You can influence through building relationships and human connection or through fear and power. You get to choose. You have to choose. Every day, in every interaction you choose how you will seek to influence.

Leaders influence through inspiration, compassion, cooperation, communication, collaboration, building relationships and human connection. They have the ability to get a group of people all pulling together towards a common goal. They meet people where they are at, ask great questions to seek understanding, listen like their life depends on it and ask more questions. They create the opportunity for other people to tell their story.

Bosses on the other hand lead through intimidation, coercion, fear and power. They leave a wake of destruction in their path. I used to refer to these people as toxic leaders, but I realized that if you are toxic, you are not a leader. Sadly most organizations have bosses in some formal leadership positions.

You have influence. You also have a choice as to how you use that influence. You can influence like a leader, or influence like a boss. I hope for the sake of the people you supervise, and for your organization that you choose to influence like a leader.

Remember that leadership is a choice and a journey and it starts with you. Choose well, keep learning and enjoy the journey.

Brian Willis

Register yourself, and your team for the Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading online workshop to get everyone on the same page regarding leadership and culture. If you are interested in hosting a live Dare to Be Great workshop reach out to me at