Leadership = Influence

I agree with leadership maven John Maxwell and others who have stated that that the key to leadership is influence.  In my view, leadership is influence.

I have read a great deal about levels of leadership and level of influence. For this blog, however, I have divided influence, upon which leadership hinges, into three general categories:

First, there is influence based on positional authority.  Get it done because I am your boss.

This can be effective in getting a particular task done.  But because it is based, at least in part, on fear relating to authority, prudent risk-taking may be discouraged and leaders may be followed from too far a distance.

Second, there is influence based on intellectual persuasion.  Here, the leader uses facts and logical arguments to gain support for the plan, program or initiative. Of course, the positional authority may increase the persuasiveness of the argument, but the request is made based on facts and logic and not authority alone.

Intellectual persuasion also can be very effective.  It definitely shows respect for the recipient, but it may not be long lasting.  The leadership is, in large part, dependent on the logic, not the leader.  And do leaders really have time to explain, logically, every suggestion or requirement?

Finally, there is interpersonal influence.  That is when individuals follow a leader because they personally believe in him or her.  Or at a minimum, they are pre-disposed to follow the leader. As John Maxwell aptly states:  "People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision."

The question then becomes:  "How do leaders in HR create this buy-in?"  Maxwell describes many leadership dilemmas, but one of which is the potential tension between respectability and likeability.

Like many others, Maxwell believes that both are necessary and that achieving them is an on-going balancing act.

It is with great admiration for Maxwell and others that I respectfully suggest that likeability may be the wrong term.  Perhaps I am nuancing, but I do not believe that leaders necessarily need to be likeable -- I believe that they need to be seen as human beings who demonstrate their humanity by making emotional connections. Of course, in most cases, that makes them likeable!

I make this distinction for three reasons.

First, aiming for likeability may involve following rather than leading.  In some ways, it can become like chasing employee relations polls.

Second, many employees will not interact closely enough with a leader to determine whether he or she is truly likable.  Authentic assessment often requires some interaction or at least proximity.

Finally, likeability carries with it the potential for gender bias.  Researcher Marianne Cooper for Sheryl Sandberg’s ground breaking Lean In found some disturbing correlations between likeability and gender.

When a man is successful, he is more likely to be liked by both women and men.  Sadly, the converse is true for women.  A woman who is successful is less likely to be liked by both women and men.

This creates a potential vicious circle for women.  To be influential, you need to be liked.  But to be liked, you cannot be too successful?

For these and other reasons, while I agree that leaders should strive to be respected by being respectful, I do not believe that the balancing goal should be likeability.  Instead, I think the compatible goal should be to gain respect through a human connection.

This human connection includes a strong emotional component, the subject of next month’s blog. To quote John Maxwell but again: "Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand."


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