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Powerful leadership vs. influential leadership

Posted Sep 13 2010 1:00am

I had a great conversation with Danielle Durst the other day. For 90 minutes we discussed many topics, one of which was the distinction between power & influence, especially when it comes to leadership styles.

Each style can be used as a way of creating change, but Danielle and I agreed that one method is far better than the other.

Powerful leadership

Power has a negative connotation. Power is often associated with violence, greed, popularity & selfishness. When you think of powerful leaders, or just powerful people in general, they are often not the most well-liked individuals.

Powerful leaders make the decision for you. They tell you what to do. And if they get enough people to listen, they are successful in creating change.

One common idea that all human beings share is responsibility – in this case, the ability to choose our response.

Our life is a series of choices, and with each choice, we face consequences. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. But one thing is for sure. We want to make our own decisions.

We are (and always have been) resistant to power. As a kid, when your mom exhibits power to get you to do something, you resist. You do the opposite just in spite of her. (well, that’s what some of us did)

Powerful leadership takes the decision out of our hands.

The powerful approach is tactically more difficult. You only have one person leading the charge. Everyone else is following along blindly.

Although tactically more difficult, it is often the more commonly used leadership style. An alternative is influential leadership.

Influential leadership

I prefer influential leadership. When you lead with influence, you put the decision back in the hands of the people. They get to choose for themselves. You just help steer them in the right direction.

This is emotionally more difficult because it requires us to relinquish control. We can’t be sure they will agree 100% with our beliefs. When you believe strongly in something, it’s often difficult to imagine things turning out any other way than how you had planned. This takes strength, patience & trust.

Lead by example. Be there for people, especially when others are not around. Do the right thing. Smile. Exude confidence in everything you do & everywhere you go.

Listen. Take a step back. Let someone else have all the attention. Don’t speak, just act. Listen some more. Engage others in conversation. Ask questions, don’t provide answers.

There are many ways to practice influential leadership, and there is no one single recipe for success. I do hope you will give this some thought, and try a few things above. I believe it will make you a better leader.

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