Leadership influence is a tricky concept. The reality about leadership influence is we all have influence, but so many people that I observe fail to realize the impact their influence is making.
Influence, unfortunately, does not always mean a positive outcome. Often times I see the result of influence being more negative than positive.
That’s why my heart beats for teenagers. They are exploring the realm of their influence, often missing the real impact they have.
Sometimes, teenagers get so tuned in to their own interests and preferences that they neglect the impact their decisions and actions are having on those around them.
Sometimes, adults get so tuned in to their own interests and preferences that they neglect the impact their decisions and actions are having on those around them.
That’s why I love the leadership conversation. If I can take a student (or adult) and help them begin to discover the potential and influence they have, then we can start to move forward together.
That’s also why I love the three questions. Teaching the three questions to students is a way for them to start to realize the impact they can and do have on a room. More than that, it helps them see the results of that impact. And that impact doesn’t come from being up front or in charge. It comes from serving and adding value.
I want any room I enter to be better because I’m there. Now, that may not mean that I’m the center of attention, and a lot of times that’s not the case at all. But wherever I am, I want to make an impact on those around me in some way. And I love helping others do the same thing.
What about you? Where are you in the process? What’s your passion for developing leaders? What are you doing to develop student leaders around you? What are you doing to develop your own leadership? What step do you need to take today to move forward either developing student leaders or developing your own leadership?
Here are two things I would suggest to help you move forward here:
Stampede! Or, at least in my mind that’s what I thought was happening.
Granted, now, I realize there was definitely a flare for the dramatic in my response, but I was still pretty green at the whole thing.
We were “driving” cattle, which meant we were trying to move them from one field to another. In the process, they will sometimes naturally run.
The field we were trying to move them out of had a very large ditch (about 40 feet deep) on one side. As we were moving the herd closer to the gate, they started running toward the edge of the ditch, or draw as we called it, I started freaking out.
In the movies, this is where the hero rushes in to divert the herd from the cliff, thus saving the day. So, in my infinite wisdom, I sped over to keep them from jumping to their death.
I didn’t understand one basic concept: cattle may not be hyper intelligent, they’re also generally intelligent enough to realize a 40 foot drop is not a great idea. In other words, the herd was not going to plummet to their death.
The very thing I thought was a danger, was in fact a boundary.
Boundaries are beneficial as you are moving a herd, because it helps reinforce the direction you’re heading. Having a solid boundary on one side allows you to multiply your efforts on the other two sides, and actually increases progress.
Leadership is similar. Sometimes the things we consider to be death traps are actually boundaries in place to help us maximize our effort.
The sacred cows (no pun intended) that drive us crazy actually give us insight into the priorities of those we lead.
The attitudes we don’t understand help us process and choose the right steps forward.
When we understand the limit on one side, we can spend more time on the other two to help push things forward quicker.
Sometimes the boundaries have to be broken through, but often if we shift our mindset just a little, we begin to see the opportunity in front of us and it helps clarify our next steps.
The rest of the story is this: boundaries shouldn’t be boundaries forever. Eventually we moved out of that field into a new one. Those attitudes and sacred cows will eventually stop being boundaries, but only after you’re able to lead forward.
What are you facing today that feels like a death trap, but is actually just a boundary? What adjustment do you need to make to help move things forward?
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Growing up I spent countless hours on tractors. When plowing, I would make “rounds” which meant driving down one side of a terrace and back on the others side. It truly didn’t matter which way I went, but I generally went in a counter-clockwise direction. I never knew why, it was just what felt more natural.
Then one day I discovered why.
There was an old implement in one of the fields. I guess it was more alongside one of the fields. I had never used it, but it had always been there.
One day I asked my dad about it. He told me it was called a “one way” and it was what they used to plow when he was growing up.
Care to guess why it’s called a one way? Because it could only make the rounds one direction.
Care to guess what direction? Counter clockwise.
Can you see where this is going? I was living out a reality that was established by an implement decades before I ever existed. My dad grew up driving a tractor with a one-way, which trained him to go a certain direction. In turn, when I was old enough to plow, my dad taught me the same way he knew and had been doing for decades.
It was tradition.
Tradition always starts somewhere, and usually for a good reason. Tradition often times, however, moves into the realm of “does it really matter” after a little while. The tractors and implements we were using were mechanically ambidextrous, but our tradition-driven habits were not.
As you lead, you will encounter traditions and people who are unwilling to change because of tradition. Sometimes, the tradition is valid. Sometimes, the tradition exists because it’s what is comfortable and known, but the tradition itself is simply strange.
Your role, as a leader, is to help navigate the traditions. Find the good in traditions and maximize it. Find the bad in traditions and erase it.
But understand, traditions are hard wired into everything we do. Eventually, some traditions get so hard wired into our systems that we don’t realize the shortfall. But sometimes, knowing is half the battle.
One last thought: be sympathetic to traditions. Yes, sometimes you have to take a hatchet to a bizarre tradition, but that doesn’t negate the emotional connection.
Ultimately our job as leaders is to lead people, so we have to learn to navigate the emotions people feel when it comes to traditions. Lead with grace and understanding, but also lead with courage. The balance may be difficult, but it is definitely worth it.
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My dad grew up 70 miles from where his operation is centered today and still has some land there. When I was growing up and when I moved back to work on the farm for a few years, we would spend a few days each month going back and forth to “the ranch” to take care of cattle and other things.
The things about owning lands in two different locations, separated by 70 miles, is sometimes you need something at Point A to be at Point B. This could be anything from a tool or part, to a tractor or herd of cattle. So, moving things across the 70 miles was simply a part of the operation.
But throughout all my life, I only had to move “the disc” one time. Now, it’s difficult to describe “the disc” to someone who doesn’t understand the world of farm implements, so I’ll over-simplify it: a disc was something we pulled behind a tractor to plow the ground. A disc is not a plow because it’s a disc, although it does the same thing as a plow, it just uses a different approach. Simple enough, right?
Our lesson today isn’t about the difference, but about one key part of the disc we had to move: when raised and ready to haul, the disc had three wheels side by side by side, which means one wheel was sandwiched between the other two.
In the field, behind a tractor, this was not a problem. But a tractor drives about 5-7 mph, so the wheels never heat up too much, and even if you need to change the wheel, you have the aid of the tractor.
On the highway, behind a pickup traveling somewhere between 55 and 65 mph, this sandwich became a problem.
The one time I had to move “the disc”, you can probably guess what happened–the wheel bearing on the middle wheel went out and needed to be replaced before we finished the trip.
Working on that wheel was one of the worst, most frustrating, and entirely exhausting tasks I had to do in my time back on the farm. Thankfully, I had someone else there to help.
Later, I made a comment to my dad about how frustrating that was and his response took me by surprise: “Yeah, but it’s just kind of a rite of passage.”
You see, he knew moving the disc would probably result in a 2 hour stay at the truck stop trying to fix it. He accepted it as part of life. It wasn’t neglect on our part. It wasn’t foolishness. It wasn’t stupidity. It was natural.
In your leadership, there’s something you’re facing (or have faced) that feels like changing that wheel bearing. You feel frustrated, angry, exhausted, and worn out as a result of it. The reality–you’ll never move forward without doing the hard work that needs to be done.
So today, this week, this month, or this year, know the struggle you’re encountering is something you need to work through, and once you get to the other side you will look back and say “there was no other way.”
Make the most of the time you have today.
I have remarkably soft hands. Thankfully, most people don’t point this out on handshakes. But for some reason, I don’t have rough, cracked hands.
Part of that may be when I worked on the farm I preferred to wear gloves when possible. I hate having my hands covered in filth. It’s hard to explain. I wouldn’t say it’s a phobia or that it encroaches into the realm of OCD, but I was diligent in protecting my hands.
Have you ever tried to change the wheel bearing on a farm implement? Have you ever heard the term “grease monkey”? There’s a connection between the two. Changing a wheel bearing means one end result–grease gets everywhere.
One summer, my boss (okay, my dad) was literally out of the country, and we had a wheel bearing that needed to be changed. I knew how to change the bearing, but I hadn’t actually changed one before. So guess what? I got to have a great experience culminating in my being filthy. The thing about wheel grease is that it gets everywhere, and you have to use quite a bit to do the job correctly.
As uncomfortable as it was to get dirty and filthy that day, the reality was the job needed to get done, and I was the one to do it.
Leadership is the same. There are undoubtedly leadership tasks that strike fear deep inside of you. Maybe you’ve been able to get by all this time without having to face that uncomfortable moment.
I have bad news for you: your day is coming. Before you know it, you are going to have to face that tough situation head on and get your hands filthy.
Your approach, however, determines your outcome. I could have moaned and complained all day about having to change that wheel bearing, but the job went much smoother when I just accepted the job and did it.
Whatever it is that you’re avoiding–a conversation, a situation, a person, a task–you get to choose your approach. Keep avoiding it and fearing it, and the monster grows. Face it head on and you never know what might happen. You may get your hands dirty and be excited about it.
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