When I was a Corporal with the army in National Service, I was reading during admin time. Doing a lot of reading whilst others were playing their Play Station Portable or other mobile devices. I consumed quite a fair bit of John C Maxwell’s books on leadership and one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learnt from them about leadership is that ‘Leadership is influence’ – and that was the single most powerful lesson that help to reshape what I think about leadership and how I learnt to conduct myself even as a ‘mere Corporal’ in army.
Appreciating that leadership is about influence helped me to see that it is not so much about your rank or appointment but the way you are able to get people to listen to your ideas and views, including your superiors. It takes building up your credentials, taking ownership of your role in the mission and gaining the trust of your fellow colleagues. It made me recognise that making change do not come through necessary from mere conforming so you can rise up the ranks and use your authority to make a difference.
In fact, it usually doesn’t work this way. If you’ve risen in any organisation through conforming to the usual norms and practices, then you are unlikely to be able to change much, given that you’ve built the reputation as an operator, as an implementor of instructions. This is particularly challenging for middle management who have to manage their subordinates while delivering on some of the things that the boss above him wants. Your ability to influence or to lead upwards and downwards is vital to your agency. Otherwise, you’re a mere pipe or funnel for information and instructions.
So lead up, lead down, lead sideways – through your personality, your connection with others and drive the change you want to see. To the extent your circle of influence allows you.