Leadership Is Influence. What Is Influence?

Two men talking and looking at a laptop.

Mike Meyers | January 27, 2023

“Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” – John C. Maxwell

You’ve likely heard this quote, or at least the first three words, a number of times. It’s easy to buy into and appeals to a servant-minded leadership approach. Leadership doesn’t come from authority; it comes from the ability to influence.

If leadership is influence, what exactly is influence, and how do we gain more of it? I often define the meaning behind a concept by evaluating how it will be measured. For example, let’s say you want to increase client satisfaction. It would be helpful to know how you will measure its increase. It could be evaluated through the percentage of product returns or repeat purchases. The answer could be dependent on your circumstances, but regardless of where you land, your metric of success will influence how you think about client satisfaction and drive your activity and investment to impact your desired result.

Measuring something intangible like influence is difficult, but there are possible methods. One option is to measure your influence by how often you convince others that you are right. I hope some warning lights are going off for you. I think we’ve stumbled on what influence is not. Influence is not about convincing others or being right. That’s serving our ego, not others, and at its worst drives behaviors of manipulation or coercion. I propose the metric for influence is how often others seek you out. Are you someone others gravitate to, whether they are stuck or just seeking another perspective?

I’d like to go one layer deeper. If leadership is influence, and influence can be measured by how often others are seeking us out, what are the attributes or behaviors that attract others to seek us out? In other words, why do you choose to process an issue with one person and not another? Maybe the obvious answer is their expertise, but I’d propose that is not the primary reason. Above expertise, I’d put humility, curiosity, and empathy. The humility and selflessness to show the other individual respect and have their best interest at heart. The curiosity to ask questions and dig deep to increase the shared pool of understanding. The empathy to emotionally connect with another’s perspective. I believe that is influence and, thus, leadership.

In our dedication to servant-minded leadership, I hope we consider our influence over others. Let’s strive for selflessness and curiosity and base our success on the measurement of how much help we offer.