Sunday, June 10, 2007

Leadership Capital

I am sure that you routinely listen to financial market reports, and if you are like me, you do the math in your head to approximate the impact on your own part of the financial universe. If you happen to be one of those who does your own investing and financial management, then you pay very close attention to the capital markets, indeed. Each of us, however, possesses another kind of capital. We spend it, give it, receive it, and collect interest on it everyday. It is the influence we possess - our ability to have an impact and make a difference in the world and lives around us. And in this case, we choose on a moment-by-moment basis where and how it is invested.

My guess is that most of us have little idea of the amount of influence we carry. I recall receiving an email years ago, one of those great stories that make you stop and think. It was about a very simple act of kindness and the life-saving, life-changing impact it had - all of which was unknown to the person performing the act. In this particular story, a young man was a student at a new high school where he simply did not fit in. Teasing, intimidation and mockery were his daily diet. Alone in a new school and not able to make friends, he was miserable. Walking home one day he dropped his books. Another young man saw this, crossed the street and offered to help. Assisting his new acquaintance he helped the boy home. Over time the acquaintance became a deep friendship. Years later this young man sat at his high school graduation ceremony listening to the Valedictorian, the boy he had helped that day, describe the impact of friendship on his life. He was stunned to learn that on that fateful day his friend was walking home with the intent of committing suicide. This class Valedictorian, captain of the baseball team and honor student had been in such despair that he was about to do the unthinkable until a simple act of kindness changed his course.

The point of this story? The boy who performed the act of kindness had no idea of the dire circumstance that was playing out, yet his action, as casual as it was, had an enormous impact. In short, he was unaware of the influence he was having. I think the same can be said for most of us. Here are a few simple thoughts on influence for you to consider:

Everyone Influences Someone: At every level of our lives we are in constant contact and interaction with others. Even the most introverted person cannot escape the reality that they personally influence thousands of people. But beyond casual influence, there is a purposeful influence that is a key to leadership. This kind of influence is thought out and implemented by design, not haphazardly. Its motivating desire is to help shape the thoughts, development and character of those being influenced.

We Seldom Know Whom or How Much We Influence: Although these questions are generational, you can ask them of people and get immediate emotional responses: Where were you when President Kennedy was assassinated? Where were you when the Challenger exploded? Where you you on 9/11? Those were big events; we expect them to be indelibly written in our hearts. But there are in each of our lives a host of smaller, character-building, career-enhancing and life-defining moments and relationships that the entire world doesn’t know about. In my own life I think instantly of a high school teacher, a friend of my parent’s, a fellow aircrew member, and a mentor in my professional career. Each of these has left a mark on my life that will never be erased – none of them set out purposefully to do so.

The Best Investment in the Future is a Proper Influence Today: The question is never whether you will influence someone, rather it is twofold: Who will you influence, and who will you allow to influence you? I count myself fortunate to have had mentors who decided to invest themselves in my life and career. It is a partnership, and not always an easy or comfortable one. This investment runs in both directions, unable to be given if the intended receiver is unwilling. An appropriate challenge to each of us is to consciously think about whom it is that we wish to be influenced by in our professional career. Who is it that models the professional development and character that you wish to attain? How can your relationship with that person be strengthened so that you can closely observe how they have obtained and share their influence, and be in a position to gain from their experience?

Influence Is a Skill That Can Be Developed: Yes, there is hope! Leadership and influence are inexorably linked, you cannot have one without the other. Fortunately both are learned skills. There is no course or class, no diploma to mark your passing to a position of “influence.” It is one result of your experiences as you think about, envision, plan, and live the life you choose. Your career will bring success and success will bring recognition. With recognition comes the opportunity for influence on a wider scale. Do you know what your personal “Influence Quotient” is? Do you know where you need development in order to gain more influence? Do you know how to exercise your influence? Have you engaged in an influence development partnership, either as a mentor or the one being mentored?

Financial markets will fluctuate on a day-to-day basis and the value of the capital invested in them will vary greatly. But the investment decisions we make with our “Influence Capital” are under our direct control, captive to no one else. What we do with them will go far in defining the quality of our lives and our leadership.

“Influence.” We all have it. How are you investing yours?

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