Answer these three questions before seeking to leading others
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“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” — John Donne
While visiting an older friend recently he told me that he had recently looked back on his life and identified the five people who had been the most influential. These were the individuals responsible for nudging him along (whether willingly or not so willingly) in the direction that would lead him to where he is today. And he has had a good life. A meaningful career; a beautiful home; amazing friends, family, and colleagues; and a treasure-trove of life experiences that if he ever took the time to publish them, it would surely be a bestseller.
These influential people were teachers who believed in him, even when he didn’t. They were family members who made just the right suggestions at just the right time. They were managers who encouraged him to advance in his career. One woman even stopped him from committing suicide, even though she didn’t realize that’s what he was going through. Kind words have powerful influence—an impact that we will often never know the true extant of.
Without these influences my friend’s life would have been completely different. Not to suggest that he would have necessarily been worse off, but only to suggest that the positive experiences he did have were from a direct consequence of these encouraging people that he surrounded himself by. Some days these people served as the wind for his sail; other days they were the sail—while other days they were the boat!
This friend’s reflection is a poignant reminder that no one is ever truly self-sufficient. Whether we like it or not, we all rely on others for everything we have and hope to have. Recognizing and embracing this fact is instrumental to how we live our lives, opening us up to a world of amazing possibilities.
You Already Have Influence
According to some estimates, the average person has the potential to influence some 80,000 people in their lifetime. 80,000! Even if we lean towards the far more conservative estimates of closer to 10,000, the figures are simply incredible. Some may argue they can’t possibly have that much sway in the lives of others, especially if they don’t hold a particularity influential position, but whether they know it or not they are influencing others every day.
Especially in the age of social media, this fact is perhaps truer now than ever before. Many of us are electronically connected to everyone we have ever met, everyone we hope to meet, and even people who we will never meet. Every word and picture shared becomes a platform that will influence—whether consciously or subconsciously—the people on the other side of the screen. We have all been given a platform from which others have granted permission to speak into their lives. Every day we truly influence more people than we realize.
Everything we do communicates something, but are we really aware of what we are communicating? Whether others look up to us for leadership, or whether they look down on us in judgment, a useful question to ask ourselves is whether our influence is a positive one that builds up, or a negative one that tears down.
Influence is a two way street, though, so just as we are influencing others so too are others influencing us. The problem is that we are often surrounded by conflicting influences—with some that are positive, some negative, and yet still other influences are neutral and it's up to us to decide what kind of impact they have on us. How do we sift through the noise to ensure we are granting permission to the right kind of influences?
Methods of Influence
There are seven common methods of influence. They include:
We can debate the validity of these methods, but there is no doubt we have all experienced each one at some point. To discern which method we should use in a given situation we can consider the suggestion that one of my mentor’s, John Maxwell, has made, suggesting that ultimately there are three main questions that everyone wants to know the answers to, and if we look carefully at these questions—and answer them sincerely—we can learn how to be a source of positive influence in the lives of others while at the same time discerning the influences we accept into our own lives. These three questions are:
Notice how these questions address three of the methods of influence:
Think about the people who have had the most influence in your own life. Did they demonstrate that they care for you? Were they empowered and motivated to help you in some way? Could you trust them? Keeping these high impact questions in mind whenever you’re in a position to seek influence will be of tremendous value to you and those around you.
3 Ways to Enhance Your Influence
The following is a method I’ve been using professionally as a magician for three decades to gain influence with my audience, though in the beginning I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. In the beginning I was just trying to share something fun and amazing, but I soon realized that to be most effective I had to first get the audience on my side, and it was only when I had made that connection that real magic became possible. Here are those three steps for increasing influence:
These three objectives can only happen if certain behavior expectations are met—on both sides—because if there’s a break down at any point along the way then the magic will be lost, the presentation will suffer, and the desired result will not be accomplished.
I would suggest though that these objectives are not limited to use in a magic show. The same strategies that pull off a successful performance can be applied to corporate life, organizational leadership, sport teams, and even relating among family and friends. Here’s a brief outline for how to apply these three influential practices:
The twentieth century magician Dai Vernon once said: “Confusion is not magic.” In other words, if the audience doesn’t understand what is happening then they won’t realize when a magical moment has taken place. For example, if a coin disappears but the audience wasn’t aware that the coin even existed then the magical moment will be lost. This same kind of confusion happens every day among family, friends, colleagues, and students when we don’t take time to first engage with them where they are.
This step reminds us to understand where the other person is coming from—their fears, their motivations, their presumptions, their beliefs. If we ignore this step then a breakdown in communication will take place making it hard to produce the desired results.
2. WHY IT MATTERS
One of the common complaints about magic is that it all seems so frivolous. We may not know how a playing card that was lost in a deck some how appears back on the top, but the overwhelming response from many is simply “So what?”
This step reminds us to not just understand where the other person is coming from, but to also build a bridge from where they are to where you want to take them. We may think it’s obvious why something matters, but unless we’re able to articulate it clearly—and in a way that touches their pain points—then others simply won’t care because they haven’t connected with it emotionally.
3. TAKE ACTION
Taking action in a magic performance takes on many possible roles. It could be as complicated as coming onto the stage and following a series of directions to make the magic happen, or it could be as simple as selecting a card from a deck of cards. At an even more basic level the audience must at least willingly suspend their disbelief for a short period of time in order to get the most out of the experience. As the late great magician Daryl once put it: “Life is like a magic trick...the more time you spend trying to figure it out the less time you have to enjoy it.”
This step reminds us that building a bridge from where the other person is to where you want to take them is not enough. They must also be motivated to walk across that bridge! To use an earlier metaphor, understanding provides the boat to travel on; connecting to their motivations provides the sail to point the boat in the right direction; and taking motivated action provides the wind to move the boat in the direction that you want to take them.
No one is ever truly self-sufficient. Whether we like it or not we all rely on others for everything we have and hope to have, and if we desire to foster mutual positive influence then we must be able to answer these three questions: Do we care about others? Can we help others? Can others trust us? Using the three steps to increase influence we can answer these questions in the affirmative:
We already have influence, but the question is what kind of impact are we making with it? By being more intentional about our words, actions, and interactions with others we will be empowered to facilitate positive experiences for ourselves and for those round us, opening us up to a world of amazing possibilities.
Jonas Cain facilitates positive change initiatives for emerging leaders and their influencers.