Stories of Positive Influence

In this space we listen to people in the positive influence community and present their experiences with positive influence leaders. We also collect stories of negative influences and how people coped with those experiences.

We welcome your experiences with a positive influence leader or how you coped with negativity. Send your story to

Motivating Positive Influence Leaders Help Angie Find Her Core Purpose

“Jane was CEO of a human services agency where I worked as HR director. Her husband, Terry, was the person who convinced Jane to hire me, saying, “I’m not sure that Angie will be really good at HR, but she’ll be really good at SOMETHING and we just need to help her find it.” A few years into my employment, Jane made an offhand comment that we should start a leadership academy. At that time, I had no idea what she meant or what is a leadership academy since her comment came well before leadership development was at the forefront of the mind of most CEOs. About a year later, while in graduate school my head and heart were sparked by what my mentor, Dr. Karl Soehnlein taught from the book, The Leadership Challenge. Eventually, I completed the Master Certification in The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership with Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. As a result, I figured out what Jane meant and I guided more than 100 nonprofit agency leaders through the Leadership Academy that I created and managed at Lutheran Services in Iowa. Without Jane and Karl I would not be where I am today.” —— Angie C.

Comment: Jane and Terry are good examples of Motivating Positive Influence Leaders. They saw something in Angie and helped her find her core purpose in life — leadership development. It was a game changer for Angie.

An Example of a Positive Influence Leader With Primary Strengths in Two Areas

“Without Kourtney I would not be the leader I am today. Kourtney saw potential in me and recruited me to a position I would never have looked for. She believed in me and trusted me to handle the responsibility she gave me. Kourtney also modeled hard work, sacrificial servanthood as a leader and empowerment of her staff. I am so grateful for her belief in me and where it took me as a leader.” ——- Lorraine H.

Comment: This story provides us with an example of a leader with strengths in two areas. Kourtney is a Motivating Positive Influence Leader who saw something in Lorraine that she did not see in herself, but also put Lorraine in a position to be successful. In addition, Kourtney was a Role Model Positive Influence Leader who served as an example for Lorraine of the value of hard work and empowerment.

Drew Embraced the Negativity of His Boss as a Challenge

“I decided to leave the healthcare organization where I was working when I asked the President for help and she said, “I don’t know how to help you. You’re on your own on this one.” It was one of the hardest lessons to learn, but I took it as a challenge and was able to leave with pride and without anger. I realized that I had to be the source of my own inspiration.” —– Drew F.

Comment: One way people deal with a negative influence leader is to prove them wrong. As we learn from Drew’s experience this requires a form of internal motivation that drives us, as in this case, to move on in order to find success. Drew put it perfectly when he said “I realized that I had to be the source of my own inspiration.”

Aunt Aggie: The Supportive Teacher

“When I was 12 years old my Aunt Aggie taught me to play guitar and swim. She believed in me and how I could be taught something as long as I was open to listening and learning. Almost 50 years later I realize now the importance of empowering others, believing in yourself and instilling protective factors as part of resiliency. Interestingly, it wasn’t until after Aunt Aggie died that my mother told me that Aggie could not play guitar or swim; she just read books on both.” —Patricia B.

Comment: We see here, in this story, a Teacher Positive Influence Leader who is also someone who was a more effective teacher because she was also a Supportive Positive Influence Leader. Aunt Aggie effectively communicated her strong belief in Patricia’s ability to learn. We also see here that effective and caring teachers often do not carry the official title of teacher or professor or instructor.

“She Took a Chance on Me”

“Without Anne, I would not be where I am today. Years ago, she took a chance on me, a CPA who had worked in public accounting and private industry for more than 15 years, to join her project management team at a major company. I had led parts of projects, but had no prior education in project management. She believed in my abilities, especially my ability to relate to clients and said, “I could learn the rest.” Anne constantly reinforced the stuff I was doing well, the stuff I could do in a different way and told me to “never sweat the small stuff.” She told me to watch, learn and to replicate what she did. She grew me into a very experienced project manager with the on-the-job training. It has allowed me to grow into a position of leadership of other project managers in the software industry.” — Julie R.

Comment: In this example, we have what seems to be an example of a Transformational Positive Influence Leader. Anne was able to provide Julie with what she needed at the very time she needed it. At various times Anne was Supportive (“took a chance on me”), an effective Teacher (“reinforced the stuff I was doing, the stuff I could do in a different way”), a Motivating Leader (“believed in my abilities”) and a Role Model Leader (“watch, learn and replicate what I do”).

“My Mother Supported All My Adventures”

“My mother supported all my adventures starting when I was young, from working in the garden to becoming an assistant to the children’s librarian, to story-teller, clown, store manager, EMT, firefighter and children’s hospital volunteer coordinator. She taught me the importance of seeing the good in everyone and to be positive, not just as a leader, but as a great follower, too. I believe a good leader not only leads, but does what is necessary to get the job done — encourages others by listening, mentoring and showing faith in the skills and abilities of others. My motto is: my job is to make your job easier.” — Kathi H.

Comment: Kathi learned at a very early age the incredible value of a Supportive Positive Influence. The support of her mother enabled Kathi to try many things until she found her core purpose and her core values. Kathi also is a great example of a Positive Influence Leader who “pays it forward” with everyone whom she encounters.

A Classic Example of a Teacher Positive Influence Leader

When I was in the middle of a two year graduate program, I was offered an opportunity to take a college administrative position at my undergraduate college.  It was an exciting adventure to consider.  Barbara, the Dean of Students at my graduate university challenged me to explore my options and to understand the impacts of those options.  She gave me the honest feedback that I did not have enough preparation for this opportunity.  I needed more knowledge, skills, and experience to be successful in that position.  She also explained that if I did not complete my graduate degree, I could have less job opportunities in the future.  Her reality check convinced me to stay and complete my Masters Program.  That credential enabled me to teach in two graduate business programs later in my career. — Marilyn C.

Comment: Barbara is a great example of a Teacher Positive Influence Leader because she taught Marilyn what she needed to know in order to be successful. In the process Marilyn learned that she “needed more knowledge, skills and experience to be successful” which resulted in her decision to stay in school and complete the Master’s degree program. This was a game-changer for Marilyn because it gave her the experience and credentials to teach graduate classes later in her career.

I Wouldn’t be Where I am Today”

“Without David, who encouraged me to take an international scholarship (even if it might mean a short-term stalling of my perceived career path), I wouldn’t be where I am today. The experience opened my whole life to an international community and broader and deeper way of seeing the world. The experience led to friendships that I still have today and to a way of work that promotes community over a focus on the individual. My mantra is: ‘together we are better.'” — Adrienne C.

Comment: In this story we have David, a Motivating Positive Influence Leader, who helped Adrienne find her purpose in life, her true north. The international experience was also critical in helping Adrienne develop a set of personal values about the importance of community, teamwork and collaboration — a leadership style we associate with a Teacher Positive Influence Leader.

The Teacher Positive Influence Leader: Teaching You What You Need to Be Successful

“A former supervisor, who hired me in spite of my inexperience, taught me most of my accounting skills. He sat with me in the conference room and using the whiteboard, taught me accrual accounting. He delegated tasks to me that I had never done before, saying ‘take your best stab at it and let me know what questions you have.’ He was never angry when I made mistakes. He simply explained them to me and then showed me how to do it the right way. I learned so much from him.” — Danielle M.

Comment: Another example of a Positive Influence who is an effective teacher, but does not carry the title of teacher or instructor. In this supervisor we also see someone who not only has expertise, but an ability to effectively communicate and share that expertise. One important aspect of being a positive influence teacher is creating a supportive learning environment where people are more easily and effectively learn. I think we might assume that Danielle will “pay it forward” with people she encounters that need a positive influence teacher.

She Kept Me Dreaming That There was Nothing I Couldn’t Do”

“I grew up in the projects in the South Bronx. We were poor. My mom raised us pretty much on her own. She was an extraordinary woman. She kept me safe, happy, fed and sheltered. And she kept me dreaming that there was nothing I couldn’t do. I give myself zero credit for this wistful desire to be great. My mom decided that, and I went along with the program.” — Michele Roberts, Executive Director, National Basketball Players Association.

David Gelles, “She Helped Put ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the N.B.A. Courts,” New York Times, September 20, 2020

Comment: There are few things more powerful than a parent (or a teacher) who, early on in your life, encourages and supports your dreams. In the case of Michele Roberts her mother didn’t just keep saying “you can do it.” She required that all homework be completed and checked before she could go outside and play. If Michele brought home a B, she had to explain why it wasn’t an A. The net result was a student who loved school and loved reading. Michele went on to law school, became a public defender, a career in the law and then to the NBA Players Association.

Ed. Note: The “projects” are high rise apartment buildings that are part of urban public housing projects, built by the government, for low-income families .

Everyone Needs a ‘Pat or Two’ in Their Career

“People can be a Positive Influence in your life in a variety of ways. For me, the most impactful Positive Influence was someone who helped me become my ‘best self’ when I questioned how to do just that. Early in my career, I accepted a job with a face-paced and growing technology company. The role instantly forced me out of my comfort zone and into a culture that valued few written policies, risk-taking and ‘shoot from the hip’ decision-making. After the first week on the job, I considered ‘packing my bag’ and heading for the exit door.

One evening, I called Pat, my boss from my previous company, to see if I could return to my old job. Pat didn’t ‘yes’ or ‘no’ about returning. Instead, he asked questions — many questions — that made me stop and think about why I left my previous job and accepted this new role. He also asked what might be the benefits of this new culture for my development. Most importantly, Pat listened. He listened to my frustrations as well as my ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ without judgment. He provided a safe place for me to talk openly. I left the conversation believing I could be successful in the new job.

I stayed with the company for six years. During this time, I focused on accepting discomfort, taking more risks and making ‘on the spot’ decisions as required by the situation. And here is the important part — I did all this with the continuing positive influence of my old boss, Pat. Over the years, he continued to ask me thought-provoking questions when I struggled and to teach, advise and nurture me. He also introduced me to people that opened doors that I did not anticipate. Later, when I did move on to a new organization, I did so with confidence — a belief in myself — that I could weather the challenges ahead. I think we all need a Pat or two in our career.” — Bette K.

Comment: Pat is another very good example of a Motivating Positive Influence Leader who helps you find your core purpose, and the confidence to be your best self. He is also an effective Teacher Positive Influence Leader who teaches you or helps you learn what you need to know (in Bette’s case) about yourself in order to be successful. The most effective Positive Influence Leaders are not limited to one approach in dealing with people, but rather have a variety of strengths and, therefore, are able to provide the person just what they need at the very time they need it.


Let’s Listen to the Kid”

“Years ago, I was a junior member of a project team at a major company. Something we implemented failed. A member of the team said to the project manager, ‘let’s do this.’ The manager said, ‘that’s preposterous.” Then we tried the manager’s fix. Again, it still didn’t work. Another member of the team made a suggestion to which the boss, again, replied ‘no.’

Finally, someone said, ‘let’s listen to what the kid has to say.’ The manager, who previously refused to consider the young man’s ideas, agreed to give it a shot. And it worked! In fact, something we had worked on for four days was fixed in 25 minutes!

The lesson I took away from this negative experience was — Listen to Everybody! Often the solution is right there in the team — you just need to be open to hearing it.” — Jim A.

Comment: Jim provides us with a good example of a coping strategy for dealing with a negative influence leader — use the negativity as a learning experience. So, when you get a chance to be a leader, remember this experience and do something different. For Jim, it was — involve everyone oo the team and listen to everyone’s ideas.


“I Started to Feel Better About Myself Again”

“My first industry job out of grad school I worked in the personnel office of a major department store. While working there I developed a bad case of mononucleosis that caused me to be very tired and lacking energy most of the time such that I had to stay home and rest. At one point, GG, the senior vice-president, encouraged me to ‘get up and get going’ because she sensed that it would be the best thing for both my physical and mental recovery.

As she said to me, ‘Ira, I don’t care if you come in, work for 10 minutes and then go upstairs and take a nap.’ She understood that I would get better if I came into work, if only for a few hours, and then went home.

Her caring and supportive approach gave me the confidence to come to work even if I felt somewhat sick and weak. In the end, she was right. The more active I became, the more energy I had and, most importantly, I started to feel good about myself again.

GG made it her business to get to know all of the employees in the store. She would walk around and talk to everyone on the floor. She seemed to know something about each person and, as a result, they sensed she cared about them. In this way and others, she was a positive influence on many people in the workplace.” — Ira A.

Comment: GG is a wonderful example of a Supportive and Motivating Positive Influence Leader. She is both caring and encouraging while, at the same time, having insight into you need to do to be successful.


No Goals Were Beyond My Reach”

“From my earliest memory of my father, he always stressed that I could do whatever I chose to do, provided I was willing to apply myself to get there. He emphasized that no goals were beyond my reach provided I was willing to put in the work to achieve them. He stressed this point countless times. As I look back on those discussions, I’m compelled to believe those moments of continued edification and confidence he had in me serve as my impetus even today as I continue to strive to be the best I am capable of being. As a task-oriented, mission driven individual, I strongly believe that if you are going to do something, you might as well do it to the best of your ability.

My willingness to embrace contributing at an extremely high level, whether in defense of my nation or as an industry senior executive, my personal accountability, education and professional credentials, and the pursuit of each, can all be traced back to the confidence and self-belief developed based upon my father’s words. Those words left a profound impact on me. That positive influence carries a generational impact as evidenced, not merely by my actions, but through the actions of my son who fully understands that he is also more than capable of achieving whatever he wants in life, provided he is willing to put in the work.” — David F.

Comment: There are two levels of takeaways from David’s story. On one level, we have his father as the Teacher Positive Influence Leader who did not provide David with a set of specific skills and knowledge, but rather with a value system that emphasized the high-level importance of “putting in the work” in order to be successful. On another level, the story reminds us that people who have benefitted from a Positive Influence Leader in their life usually “pay it forward” by being a positive force in the lives of others.


“Can you, yes.  May you, no.”

“That’s a refrain I learned from my counselor at Clinton High School.  It seems simple enough, but it taught me that words are important.  Even simple words like “can” and “may.”  I am one of several thousand young people who have come through the Clinton School system into adulthood.  Hopefully every one of those students has some memories that still influence who they are as adults.  Mr. Dan Schindler was my high school influencer.  While it was long time ago, many of his lessons are still in my mind. 

At that time the high school had a class for first-year students called “Guidance.”  It was a mish-mash of topics to help us be more skilled at life. Looking back, I suspect it was a veiled class in sex education.  But Mr. Schindler taught us even more basic, yet important, life skills. 

I can’t set a table for dinner without remembering how he taught us where each utensil should be placed, and where the glass, butter plate and coffee cup should go.  He taught us how to tie a Windsor knot that was useful to me when my husband’s job required a real tie, and not one that clipped on. 

He encouraged us to understand checking accounts, savings and even about stocks.  I wish now that I had really invested in GE and IBM rather than just on paper.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one he encouraged to seek higher education, and to have confidence in myself.  In fact, he was the main reason that I earned a MA in Counseling, so I could attempt to help students just like he helped me.  As I was working on my counseling degree, he convinced the school administration to hire me as a substitute counselor when he was on sick leave after a heart attack.  He provided both needed experience and an important entry on my resume, leading to a full-time counselor position after graduation.

He passed away from cancer many years ago, much too young.  Along with the memories of my parents, his memory continued to inspire me as I moved out of education to the world of non-profits as a staff member of the American Cancer Society. 

Why am I writing this?  Maybe as a belated thank you to him.  Maybe as a reminder to help you think of a special teacher who gave you guidance and was an important positive influence.  And, if you’re lucky, maybe it’s not too late to send a hand-written note, or email.  Teachers seldom really know the positive influence they have on the lives of their students.   Yes,  I believe now is a good time to make a difference in the present to someone who made a positive difference to you in the past.” — Sue K.

Comment: This story is another reminder that a person can be both a Teacher Positive Influence and a Role Model Positive Influence Leader. This is a person who teaches you important skills and inspires you to help and teach others, but also serves as an example of the “right way” to get things done.


“He Recognized My Ability . . . .”

When I was a junior in college studying Psychology and Biology, I took a course on the Psychology of Aging. One of the assignments was to write a paper on some aspect of aging. I chose reminiscence. This was back in the late seventies, when computer technology was still in the dark ages and library research was quite a daunting task. I remember starting on the paper early in the semester and working diligently to find everything I could on the subject in our college’s small library, writing and organizing my research on 3X5 index cards. I spent hours reading obscure research articles and searching the stacks for relevant books and information. Still, I felt uncertain as I cobbled together my notes into an outline and then into a hand-written draft, finally typing out the paper to be submitted in APA style late into the night before it was due.

I worried that what I had done wasn’t enough, and that the paper wouldn’t merit more than a C.  A few days later after an exam, Dr. R asked to speak with me. He told me that the paper was one of the best he’d ever seen written by an undergraduate – meticulously researched, key points strung together to tell a compelling story, and beautifully concluded. I was dumbfounded. His praise of my work helped me realize that I was highly capable and had the capacity to pursue bigger academic and professional challenges.

Dr. R became one of my mentors. With his encouragement and sponsorship, I took on an independent research project on moral dilemmas in my senior year, and also took some graduate level courses.  Although life’s pivot points led to an MBA rather than a graduate degree and career in psychology, Dr. R’s positive influence helped me to gain the confidence to be successful in my professional endeavors as a consultant and advisor in the fields of information technology, business, and talent development. He recognized my ability to bring together disparate pieces of information into a cohesive whole, and apply that learning to other situations. I’ve used that ability to get through many challenges, and am forever grateful to Dr. R for seeing in me a talent I didn’t. — Suzanne C.

Comment: Dr. R. is a wonderful example of a Positive Influence Leader who is, at once, Supportive (“helped me gain the confidence”) and Motivating (“helped me realize that I was highly capable”). As our research shows, many Positive Influence Leaders are able to use the strengths of more than one style.

“He Loved Us”

Back when I was doing the corporate grind, I reported to an executive (and my favorite boss to this day) that exposed me to the very practice of “Servant Leadership,” which closely parallels that of a positive influence leader. There were so many lessons Bruce taught me on my own path to becoming such a leader. 

He didn’t take advantage of his title or positional power; instead, he inspired others by making them feel like an equal. He shared the vision and decision-making with others. He made sure his followers had a seat at the table in important decisions. He also provided his followers with all the resources we needed so we could become better leaders, and we did. While he was still my “boss” and expectations of my performance were high, I recall how much more satisfied and engaged I felt than at any other time in my young corporate career.

What was it about this professional relationship that worked out so well for me? It came down to the leadership principles proven over time that built trust and loyalty in us — his followers. This is what I saw, day in and day out:

• He facilitated a shared vision with his tribe.
• He shared power and released control.
• He put people in positions to lead.
• He engaged the hearts and minds of his followers.
• He let us have a voice and allowed us to express our opinions and ideas.
• He empowered us through growth and development opportunities.
• He displayed authenticity and transparency in how he communicated, which built trust over time.
• And finally, and this encapsulates all the rest, he did the most counterintuitive thing for the majority of today’s managers: He loved us. — Marcel S.

Comment: Bruce appears to be the ultimate, the Transformational Positive Influence Leader. He was Supportive (made us “feel like an equal”), a Teacher (“so many lessons Bruce taught me on my own path to becoming a leader”), Motivating (“he engaged the hearts and minds and . . . let us have a voice and . . . express our opinions and ideas”) and a Role Model (“leadership principles proven over time that . . . I saw day in and day out.”).

“She Was Like Every Teacher I’ve Known . . . .”

“. . . Dedicated, invested, convinced me and all of her students that we could be and do anything.” This is how Vice President Kamala Harris spoke about Mrs. Frances Wilson, her first grade teacher at Thousand Oaks Elementary School in Berkeley, California.

Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Grammy winner Rita Morena, who loved to sing and dance since she was a girl, remembers a New York dance teacher who nurtured her natural talent. “That’s where it all began,” she said.

Civil rights advocate Ruby Bridges talks lovingly of Barbara Henry, her first grade teacher in 1960, the year she integrated William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. She first met Henry in an empty classroom; other families wouldn’t let their children learn next to her. Every time I got inside of the school and into my classroom, this white woman greeted me who showed me her heart. She was amazing. She made school fun. I knew she cared about me, and I felt safe and I couldn’t wait to get to school. I knew that if I just got past the mob, inside of that classroom, I just knew that I was going to have a good day.”

Nicole Carroll, “The Back Story: When Women Struggle, We All Feel The Impact, ” USA Today, Friday, March 26, 2021.

Comment: The Teacher Positive Influence Leader believes in you, in your ability to learn and effectively communicates in such a way that you begin to believe in yourself.

“The Demand Was So Blunt, I Thought She Was Kidding”

I began my career working in a neighborhood education center. Early on in my new job, a parent called one day to inform us that her daughter , who was struggling with math, would not be continuing in our program.

I spent a minute or two chatting with the mom. The child wasn’t motivated to do the work and she didn’t see the point in continuing with the program.

My boss (who knew much more about the girl’s struggles with math than I did) heard about the call and took me aside. When she discovered that I hadn’t done much to be an advocate for the child, she let me have it. She took a step toward me, waved her finger in my face and, in a loud voice, said: “you call her back now and tell her she’s wrong.”

The demand was so blunt that I thought she was kidding.

She wasn’t.

Of course, she didn’t literally expect me to say those words, but she did expect me to be an advocate for the child — and she wasn’t going to let me off the hook until I did. My boss knew from experience that if this girl stopped now, she’d never be serious about math.

I had little choice . . . I made the call.

Twenty years later, I remember little about the conversation except that I went in with the intention to advocate for the child. Somehow, I convinced the mom to keep going until the child’s confidence in math improved.

—-Dave S.

Comment: While the boss’ style seems to have been unnecessarily gruff and too harsh, she did teach Dave something he needed to learn in order to be successful as an advocate for a student with a learning challenge. While Dave’s boss was a Teacher Positive Influence Leaders, she could have much more effective if she had also been Supportive of him by making it clear that this is something that she believes he can do.

“He Showed Interest and Concern for the People Around Him”

“While I was an undergraduate, before I even thought about becoming a lawyer, I took a low-end job working for a local attorney that involved copying and filing tasks.

The lawyer had this wonderful habit of taking a pair of scissors and cutting out articles from various periodicals that he thought would be of interest to his clients.

He would hand write a note to each client and clip the note to the article. It was his way of just letting the person know he was thinking about them and thought the article would be of interest to them. He would mail it to them. This was long before online links and email.

Although I did not know him well, my strongest sense is that his motives were genuine and organic.

The wisdom of this practice extended not only to his professional relationships, but to his personal friends as well. He showed interest and concern for the people around him and I never forgot that little habit of his that he likely didn’t even think to much about. It just came naturally to him.” —Dave C.

Comment: A person who shows interest and concern for you is a great example of our Supportive Positive Influence Leader. In addition, if the article provided the client with some information or answers to questions that help them improve or be more successful, the attorney is being a Teacher Positive Influence Leader as well. Many people have two or more Positive Influence Leadership Styles.


A Key To Becoming a Positive Influence Leader: Pick the Right Parents

A Key To Becoming a Positive Influence Leader: Pick the Right Parents

Copyright Jozef Polc,

For many people the first person to support them was a parent or a grandparent. A mother or father is there at a very young age to lift you up, make it clear they have your back, help overcome your fears, develop your self-esteem and encourage an independent self-reliance. It is the very same skills, often learned in childhood, that contribute to your experience later in life as a positive influence leader in the workplace.

The positive influence leader often believes in you even when you may not believe in yourself. More specifically, they see something in you that you have yet to see in yourself. It’s there, but you have not yet become aware of it and, more importantly, aware of your ability to be good at it. Actress, dancer and author, Victoria Rowell, credits her foster mother with seeing “something” in her, giving her ballet lessons when she was eight years old and encouraging her passion for the arts while giving her the courage to pursue her dreams. Rowell’s dreams became a reality when she joined the American Ballet Theater and the Juilliard School of Music and Dance.

In a related example, a woman we interviewed, Shirnette, born and brought up in Jamaica, West Indies, talked of her grandmother who raised her, taught her to read and write, and gave her “pure love.” However, it was also “tough love,” that included high expectations for studying, reading and getting high grades. For example, in the fourth grade, she got spanked because she only got a 70 on a test. The support of her grandmother also included learning life skills such as farming and sewing. In addition to practical skills, she took from her grandmother a caring and desire to help and care for others. When her grandmother developed cancer, Shirnette decided to become an oncologist and, as she said, “become an advocate for others who cannot be an advocate for themselves.”

Positive influence leaders are able to achieve a delicate balance between empowering members of their team while staying involved with them. The message is: you are free to figure out the best way to get it done, to use resources, involve others and make decisions, but I am still here for you

In an entirely different field, but in a similar manner, Jennifer, a senior curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, says her mother,

instilled in her a passion for history at a very early age. Their home was full of history.
In fact, her mother restored their Federal style home to what it was like in 1810 down to the type of paint, siding, colors and furnishings. Her mother’s love of history, especially American history, inspired Jennifer to pursue a college degree in American history.

Jennifer’s mother was a supportive leader who encouraged, nudged, pushed or simply placed her in a situation that got her to believe in herself and do things she may have only dreamed of doing. Jennifer said her mother told her many times, “don’t let anyone stop you from doing something you’ve never done before.” Later, when Jennifer got her first job as a curator at the Smithsonian, her mother said, “you have my dream job.”

A parent is often the very first positive influence in your life as they instill, often at a young age, a love of something and belief that you can be successful in doing that something. For example, world famous, award winning actor, Denzel Washington was a big influence on his son, John David Washington. John, who initially did not want to be in his father’s shadow, began his work life as a professional football player. However, things changed when HBO’s casting director, Sheila Jaffe, was having trouble casting someone who looked like a real football player for the series Ballers. She reached out to Denzel’s agent to inquire about the availability of John David and, as they say, the rest is history. Ballers is now in its fourth season and going strong. Along the way, John David picked up the lead role in Spike Lee’s very successful, Black Klansman. While son, John David, admires his father as an actor, he says,

If I try to act like him or make movie choices like him, I’m going to fail. I love him. He’s one of my favorite actors of all time but I can’t do that. Nobody can do that.” However, Denzel is a positive influence because what he did was, in his son’s words, pass on the lesson and legacy of hard work, how to be an African American man in this country and how to honor the craft and work hard.(Igoe, 2019).

By their very role, parents have the first opportunity to be a supportive positive influence. Parents are leaders in the lives of their children as they, by actions, big and small, send a message that you have what it takes to be successful. The very same skills that make for a supportive parent contribute to your success as a positive influence leader in the workplace.

For more stories of positive influence and how you can become a positive influence leader, pick up a copy of our new book, Positive Influence: The Who Helps People Become the Best Self (HRD Press, 2020).

Nobody, But Nobody Can Make It Out Here Alone: The Myth of The Rugged Individualist

Nobody, But Nobody Can Make It Out Here Alone: The Myth of The Rugged Individualist

Copyright lekstuntkite,

“Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.”

— Maya Angelou —

At a campaign stop in Roanoke, Virginia, in 2012, President Obama got into some trouble for using the phrase, “You didn’t build that.” He was making the point that many successful people and businesses owe their success, in part, to someone who helped along the way, as well as to the government that invested in roads and bridges and other types of business support such as guaranteed loans. If the former president had simply finished the sentence by saying, “You didn’t build that alone,” it would have been much clearer and more widely accepted—since most successful entrepreneurs and business owners have some help along the way from either a teacher, mentor, partner, or friend.

Steve Jobs acknowledges the influence and importance of Steve Wozniak and Steve Lasseter to the success of Apple and Pixar. Bill Gates and Paul Allen gratefully acknowledge the influence of Ed Roberts, the developer of an early personal computer. Joe Lacob could not have engineered the turnaround of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors into the league’s elite team without Peter Guber and other Silicon Valley investors, who provided not only funding but also advice on areas such as real estate and marketing. 

Our research indicates that you don’t have to be famous or wildly successful to have benefitted from an influential person in your life. You don’t get to be a highly regarded schoolteacher, doctor, corporate manager, or fitness instructor without some help along the way. Every person that we interviewed had no problem identifying a person, often more than one, without whom they would not have made it. 

The Myth of the Rugged Individualist

When you think of the Old West, perhaps you conjure up an image of a lone cowboy on his horse riding across the prairie. It was assumed that, in order to be successful as a cowboy, a rancher or farmer, you had to be self-reliant and independent because you were on your own. If you came West for a better life, you had to work hard—because no one was going to help you. 

Not true. For example, a single man could not operate a farm or ranch alone. He needed the help of a hard-working wife and many children. So it was that families working together contributed to the success of the family farm. Beyond that, communities of farmers often came together to help each other out with barn raisings, building a school or church, fighting a fire on a neighbor’s property, or collaborating on a potluck dinner or a community social. The Federal Government helped too, providing land to settlers under the Homestead Act and supporting the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Even in the Old West, people did not do it alone.

Most 19th century entrepreneurs who developed western mining, agricultural, and railroad empires lauded themselves as rugged individualists who strongly opposed government regulation of wages, hours, and working conditions, while at the same time lobbying for government subsidies and tariffs to protect their products from foreign imports. These entrepreneurs may have launched their businesses by themselves, but they did not build their businesses alone. In addition to the government, they had a team of managers, supervisors, and workers who came together to create and grow the business. 

And that collaborative tradition continues to this day. Talk to any 21st century entrepreneur and you will hear her say, “I have a great team and we are successful because of them.”

As our research has proceeded, we found that many successful people have benefitted from multiple positive influence leaders over the course of their life and career. Growing up, that positive influence might have been a parent, a coach, or teacher; however, as they matured and entered the world of work, they encountered a workplace leader who motivated them to chart a different path or found a role model who served as a positive influence example, from whom they could learn what it takes to be successful. 

For more stories of positive influence and how you can become a positive influence leader, pick up a copy of our new book, Positive Influence: The Who Helps People Become the Best Self (HRD Press, 2020).

She Saw Something in Me That I didn’t See in Myself: Great Leaders Are Great Teachers

She Saw Something in Me That I didn’t See in Myself: Great Leaders Are Great Teachers

Copyright Aleksandr Davydov,

The positve influence teacher can be an inspiring figure in your life in a specific way. She motivates you to learn, advance your knowledge, develop your skill set, and be more proficient in your daily work life. She often helps you recognize and use the talents you already possess, but have not acknowledged. In addition to the development of specific workplace knowledge, the learning may include positive values and an ethical mindset that provides the underpinnng for a focus on doing things “the right way.” 

Leslie, a woman we interviewed for the book, told us about Professor Carlson, who was so passionate about teaching that he inspired Leslie to be a great teacher. As she told us, “It was his energy and charisma that made me want to be not just a teacher, but to be a great teacher.”

Rob, the young lead singer with an Indie rock band, credits several teachers with instilling in him the value of creativity. They went beyond talk about creativity to pushing him to let his creative thoughts drive his passion for music. These teachers also challenged him to try different types of thinking modes and be willing to challenge conventional ideas about music. Rob is convinced that it made him a better and more successful song writer. 

Oncology nurse manager Roxanne learned from her mentor, a radiation oncologist, that “death is a part of life and it’s our job to help people accept and deal with the situation.” He also taught her that “patients are not defined by their cancer.” As a result, Roxanne learned the importance of getting to know the patients, including who they are and what drives them. Most importantly, she learned from him to accept that, despite our best efforts, some might die.

Another study participant, Gerry, started his corporate career in materials management, where his first manager was a classic teacher-leader. She taught Gerry how to manage large scale projects and, more importantly, how to engage plant leadership in a way that helped accept the changes that are the inevitable outcome of such projects. She also emphasized the importance of self-management that includes essential values such as: “If you are not sure, don’t fake and stumble throught it. Just say so, own up to it, figure it out, or get help and then put it right.”

In the end, the positive influence teacher-leader is careful to teach you the necessary problem-solving skills, but not solve the problem for you. Similarly, he will provide you with a proven decision-making process—but only rarely will he make the decision for you. And finally, the learning may also include making you aware of the harsh realities of the world of work and how to negotiate them. 

So, yes, most definitely, great leaders are also great teachers.

For more stories of positive influence and how you can become a positive influence leader, pick up a copy of our new book, Positive Influence: The Who Helps People Become the Best Self (HRD Press, 2020).

What I learned in Mr. Sampson’s Barbershop: Teachers, Coaches, and Mentors as Supportive Positive Influence Leaders

What I learned in Mr. Sampson’s Barbershop: Teachers, Coaches, and Mentors as Supportive Positive Influence Leaders

Copyright Joshua Resnick,

Bob, an African American management consultant in our study group, recalled fondly the time spent as a 12-year old hanging around the local barbershop in his neighborhood in Elizabeth, New Jersey. 

The barber, Mr. Sampson, introduced Bob and other young men to black history in a town where, at the time, the public-school curriculum did not include anything about the history of famous black Americans. These experiences of looking at the pictures on the wall of the barbershop and talking with Mr. Sampson and the other people in the shop helped Bob learn and understand his heritage and, as he said, “think of myself in a positive light.” 

This experience served him well when he later attended a college in New Jersey, where the percentage of African American students was less than one percent. Thinking of himself “in a positive light” helped Bob negotiate both the academic and social challenges of being a young African American man on the campus. He was also helped by an upper class man who became a role model for his steadiness, rigor, and discipline; who taught him how to position himself in the college community; and from whom he learned the social skills necessary for success. 

Supportive Positive Influence is Always Situational

American actress Viola Davis has talked often about how supportive Meryl Streep has been to her since they appeared together in the Broadway product of Doubt. In fact, before Davis went onstage to accept her 2017 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Fences, she stopped to give Streep a kiss and a hug. They often exchange phone calls and notes. Davis has said Streep says things that make her feel that “what I have is enough.” In other words, being supportive in this case means “you are good enough to be successful; you don’t need to feel lesser than.” And successful she is.  Davis is the only African American actress to win a Tony, an Oscar, and an Emmy. 

Betsy, a woman we interviewed, was studying theater in college assuming her true north was acting, writing, and directing. However, the course of study included a required course in technical theater, where the focus was on lighting, sound, and set design. During the course, Jim, the instructor, assigned Betsy to go up on a tall ladder and hang lights on a clamp high above the stage. As Betsy recounts the situation now with a typical sense of humor, she says, “I had never been on a ladder. I was a little Jewish girl. We never even had a ladder in our house. But Jim, said, ‘Betsy, you can do it,’ and I believed him.” 

This was a game changer for Betsy. As she told us, “In those days, no one would send a woman to do something technical in the theater. From there I began using power tools, learned how to build a set, and wire everything on a stage.” 

Sometimes being a supportive leader requires that you give the person confidence that they can achieve their goals. Peter, a medical oncologist, spoke of Dr. Zwicker, his mentor in college who gave him an opportunity to work in his lab as an undergraduate. His willingness to let Peter work in the lab gave him confidence, as did having him work on his projects.

Ultimately, he made Peter co-author of an article based on their work in the lab. Dr. Zwicker saw that Peter lacked confidence because he came to the United States from Korea, with limited knowledge of the English language and culture. However, as Peter said, “He let me come along when he saw patients—which, in turn, inspired me to go to medical school. From these experiences with Dr. Zwicker, I learned that you create your own barriers and you need to break down those barriers because no one can do it for you.”

The supportive positive influence leader will be there for you, but will also tell you the hard truth, provide the guidance you need, and help you get to the next level.

For more stories of positive influence and how you can become a positive influence leader, pick up a copy of our new book, Positive Influence: The Who Helps People Become the Best Self (HRD Press, 2020).