Finding Your True North: The Power of Motivating Positive Influence

Finding Your True North: The Power of Motivating Positive Influence

Copyright Burmakin Andrey,

The motivating leader inspires, pushes, or perhaps pulls you to take action. She goes deeper than the surface impact of words to help you find your purpose—or what Bill George (2015) calls your true north. This positive influence leader finds your “sweet spot,” that part of you that is central to who you are or who you are destined to become. It is not unusual for this leader to see that special something in you that even you have not yet realized was there. 

Such was the case with Nancy, a woman we interviewed, who cites Terry Taylor, her editor at the Associated Press, as a seminal force in her work life. As Nancy told us: “Not only did Terry give me opportunities that made me realize that I wanted to be a sportswriter, but she set the tone in our department that women were every bit equal to men. I didn’t realize it until later how valuable that was.”

For Mindi, founder and director of a center for abused women, Mona was a life-altering motivating influence in her life and career. Early in Mindi’s work life, Mona was her boss at a women’s health clinic. At one point, when Mindi expressed a desire to start a place for abused women, Mona said to her: “Why haven’t you done it? Sounds like a bunch of bullshit to me. You can come up with a bunch of excuses to not make it happen.” Mindi told us, “I never forgot that conversation. It led me to get off my butt and do something about it.”

Gissoo, another woman in our study group, made a significant career change later in life to work as a patient advocate for a pharmaceutical company. In that capacity, she was fortunate to be able to interact with a high level executive in the company who helped her find her true north when he told her, “Do one thing and do it well.” He gave Gissoo a larger view of her life, work, and career by recommending that she focus on “the long-term aspects over the work I needed to get done now.”

For most people, discovering their true north is essential to a successful and satisfying work life and career. Often, it is a manager who serves as that motivating positive influence on you. You encounter them at a time when you may not be fully formed—but if you are open and ready to receive and utilize their perspective, their influence can be transformational. They see that something in you and can help you find your core purpose. 

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).

Don’t Pay It Back: How Positive Influence Leaders Pay It Forward

Don’t Pay It Back: How Positive Influence Leaders Pay It Forward

Copyright stanciuc,

Singer/songwriter Taylor Swift donated $1 million to the V Foundation for Cancer Research, but she also gave $50,000 to the nephew of one her backup singers who was being treated for cancer. It’s clear that people who have benefitted from a positive influence in their life tend to be a positive force in the lives of many of the people they encounter.

Our research indicates that some people take their experience of being on the receiving end of a positive influence leader and look for opportunities to have a similar impact on people they encounter in their work life. They can point to specific people they have impacted and the positive outcomes of those encounters. We also found that others have adopted a more generalized approach to people that seeks to have a positive influence on everyone in their orbit.

Paying it Forward with a Specific Person

Debra, a senior manager we interviewed in a large pharmaceutical company, benefited from several women early in her career who were a positive influence by helping her become more self-aware and focused on her successes, while still dealing with areas that needed improvement. In turn, she has been a positive influence on a specific direct report in her organization—a woman who told her, “You gave me an opportunity to grow, to see beyond my current self and, most important, to learn that you do not lose when you collaborate with others.”

Tony, a martial arts instructor in our study group, made a conscious effort to pay it forward by volunteering at a rape crisis center. At the center, he taught martial arts to a group of women, many of whom had been raped. He taught them the necessary skills to defend themselves—but first, as he said, “I had to break down their socialization tendencies. For example, when I hit them, they showed paralyzing emotional distress sometimes, including tears.” However, he knew he was making progress when, in a sparring match, he hit a woman a bit too hard and knocked her unconscious. As he knelt down to tend to her, she quickly regained consciousness and immediately, upon seeing him hovering over her, punched him in the nose. As Tony told us, “It was the best reaction I could have hoped for.”

Ray, a senior level corporate CIO, was a great influence on a junior analyst who worked for him. Later, the analyst became a CIO himself at a major company. When he had a decision to make, he told Ray, “I would say to myself, what would Ray do?”

Paying it Forward Across the Board

During his travels to Africa, movie actor Matt Damon learned about the challenges of providing access to safe water and sanitation in Saharan Africa. To address the issue, he co-founded Damon and his team have already raised more than $14 million to address the problem. However, he also takes an active interest in the work, including making site visits to multiple countries, developing strategy, and serving as an advocate for clean water in meetings with the World Bank and World Economic Forum

Some people in our study group said they pay it forward by adopting the principles learned from their positive influence leader and applying them in all of their interactions. For example, Dick reported that he incorporates the teachings of his two main mentors—specifically, be present, focus on the person, be consistent in your actions, and above all, use a questioning mode during interpersonal interactions—in all of his efforts to be a positive influence on the people in his organization. 

In a similar fashion, Mark has a principle that guides all his interactions with the people who work for him: “If you want to be a good boss, take more of the blame than you think you deserve and take less of the credit than you think you earned.”

Frank, a psychiatrist we interviewed, learned the importance of morality and positive values from his father. He, in turn, passes these values along to the people he encounters. Frank believes strongly in the value of treating all people with dignity, doing things the right way, and having a strong moral center. As he told us, “I pass along the importance of being respectful, that we are all the same and all our stories are sacred.”

Do You Pay It Forward?

In the course of your work or personal life, have you been a positive influence on another person? Describe the situation and how it played out.

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).

How I Found My Sweet Spot: Learn How I Discovered My True North

How I Found My Sweet Spot: Learn How I Discovered My True North

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I think of my sweet spot as that place or series of actions where I am most effective, where I can create the most value for others and the most satisfaction for me. Some people refer to it as your true north. I was fortunate to have found my sweet spot early in my working life. If truth be told, someone helped me find it. 

Rather than talk more about it, let me take you back to that day and tell you the story of how it happened.

I should tell you that it’s my first job out of grad school and this is my first performance assessment. My job involves doing research and writing reports. The work is repetitive and rather boring. On the other hand, to a 23-year old like me, the people over in education seem to be having lots of fun flying all over the country conducting leadership classes. 

So, the performance evaluation meeting with my boss, Larry, is going well. Then he says, “Let’s talk about your development plan and what you want to do over the next year to improve.” 

I ask Larry if I can observe a leadership class as part of my development. He responds, “As a matter of fact, I am travelling down South next week to run some workshops. And Glenn, I’m happy to have you come with me, but I can’t justify your travel expenses unless you conduct one of the classes.” I panic and say, “Larry, what would I teach? I don’t know anything.” 

He tells me not to worry, he will figure out something I can do. And he was right. I was able to teach something useful and the response was very positive. From that experience, I realized learning and development was my sweet spot, my true north. 

I should mention that Larry was not an especially charismatic leader. However, as research tells us, leaders who establish interpersonal connections and empower action are more likely to positively influence others than a leader with an excess of personal charisma. 

It was only many years later that I came to understand what Larry had done. He saw something in me—he believed in me, believed that I could teach and do it well. And rather than give me a rah-rah motivation talk, he created a situation and the conditions for me to be successful and realize it for myself. He was the first positive influence leader in my work life. 

Our research indicates that you don’t have to be famous or wildly successful to have benefitted from a positive influence in your life. You don’t get to be a highly regarded corporate manager, an award-winning school teacher, a life-saving oncologist, or a fitness guru without some help along with the way. Every person we interviewed had no problem identifying a person, often more than one, without whom they would not have made it. 

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).

Four Types of Positive Influence Leaders: Which One Are You?

Four Types of Positive Influence Leaders: Which One Are You?

Copyright yarruta,

At the outset of our research, we expected to find a set of characteristics or traits that hung together to form an effective positive influence leader. However, the data told us clearly that successful positive influence leaders come in different sizes and shapes. In other words, “One size does not fit all.”

A positive influence leader in your work life is sometime very supportive, frequently an exceptional teacher, at times quite motivating, and often, a confident role model. Effective and successful leaders all have a positive influence on the members of their team, but in different ways and often with a different emphasis. In other words, you can be a highly successful leader using one or perhaps two of the four styles.

Our research shows that all of us have the capacity to use the strengths of all four styles; we just happen to use one or perhaps two styles most often. For example, from our interviews, we learned that certain leaders have been at times an effective teacher; while at other times, they have provided a motivating type of leadership influence, depending upon what the person needed at a specific time in their work life. Other combinations have emerged as well. 

The Supportive Positive Influence Leader

For many people, the first positive influence in their life was a parent or grandparent who believed in them, encouraged them, and supported them from their very first days. It is this capacity for being supportive that is one of strengths of the effective leader, whether you find that person in the home or in the workplace. 

For example, founder of the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in Athens, Greece.  She credits her mother with the being the most positive influence in her life. As Huffington said, “She made me feel that I could aim for the stars. And if I failed along the way, that is okay. Failure is not the opposite of success, she used to say, it’s a stepping stone to success.”

The Supportive Positive Influence Leader believes in her people but, more importantly, helps the members of her team believe in themselves.

The Teacher Positive Influence Leader

Many people point to that special teacher who inspired them to achieve greatness, while also teaching them important career skills and how to navigate bumps in the road of life. 

Physicist and astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman to walk in space, credits her graduate school professor, Dr. Arthur Walker, for instilling confidence in her such that she believed she could accomplish anything set her sights on, even becoming an astronaut. 

For many women who grew up in an earlier time, a positive influence helped them tackle a job that was previously considered the sole purview of men. For example, Betsy, a woman we interviewed for the book, said her theater teacher convinced her that woman could be successful working on the technical side of theater such as building a set and lighting the stage. 

Teachers are great leaders when they teach people what they need to learn in order to be successful. Perhaps more importantly, as leaders, they create in people the desire to use their skills to achieve great things.

The Motivating Positive Influence Leader

For some people, their pivotal influence came in the workplace when they encountered a manager who “saw something in me” or “pushed me to do something different” or “held me accountable.” The motivating manager identifies some untapped part of you that was previously unknown to you.

Steve Jobs served as a mentor and advisor to Mark Zuckerberg. The two often met to discuss management practices. Zuckerberg credits Jobs with helping him understand that “what you build can change the world.”

Roxanne, a nurse manager in a hospital-based cancer center, whom we interviewed, said the motivating leader in her work life was Dr. Dan Fram, a radiation oncologist. It was his caring approach to patients and the key moments they spent together that convinced her that “oncology provides me with the best opportunity to help people.” 

Effective leaders are motivating leaders who see things in people they often do not see in themselves. They help people realize their potential by showing them the way . . . while not doing it for them. 

The Role Model Positive Influence Leader

“The greatest thing about Michael Jordan was that he was not afraid to fail,” said LeBron James of his boyhood idol and role model. Every fan of basketball during those days will recall that Jordan never feared failure, which is why he was always willing to take the biggest shots in the biggest games. He viewed failure as part of his success and a key part of his development. 

Adriana, a woman we interviewed for the book, came to the US to attend college and pursue a career in business. Adriana saw Dina Habib Powell as her role model. Powell is best known for having been the United States Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy to President Donald Trump. She also served in the Bush (43) and Obama administrations. When Dina came to the US with her parents from Egypt, she could not speak a word of English.

In Dina, Adriana found someone to whom she could relate, and saw that it was possible to be an immigrant woman of global impact. This is the essence of an inspiring positive influence role model leader.

When great leaders serve as positive influence role models, they usually provide clear examples of how things are done properly and push people beyond their assumed limits. 

Which Positive Influence Leader are You? 

  1. Supportive
  2. Teacher
  3. Motivating
  4. Role Model

Maybe you are a combination of several types. Perhaps, for example, you are a Motivating and a Role Model Positive Influence Leader who is able to inspire people to take action, while at the same time serving as a positive example from whom they can learn.

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).

In Times of Crisis: We Need a Positive Influence Leader

In Times of Crisis: We Need a Positive Influence Leader

Copyright Wavebreak Media Ltd,

We have all heard a good deal over the years about “crisis management.” Crisis management often treats a disruption or unexpected event as something to be “managed” in such a way that minimizes harm to the organization. It often begins with denial or even minimizing the event:

  • “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
  • “People are exaggerating the situation.”
  • “It’s not that bad.”
  • “It will all be over soon.”

However, in times of a real crisis such as war, financial meltdown, or pandemic, leadership—not simply management—is required. Real leaders don’t deny, deceive, or deflect. We believe, more specifically, that Positive Influence Leadership is necessary in times of crisis. 

Positive Influence Leaders Are Supportive.  

They are not cheerleaders who tell everyone that it’s going to be fine. They are, however, calm and confident and, most of all, truthful. They make it clear that, while this may be a long-term battle, we are in this fight together and “I have your back.”

Leaders like David Gibbs, CEO of Yum Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell), just recently made it very clear to their millions of customers and thousands of franchisees around the world that they are “open for business” and well-positioned for this crisis because they long-ago perfected “contactless” delivery, drive-thru, and carry-out. This is the kind of supportive leadership people need to hear right now

Positive Influence Leaders Are Teachers.

They listen to your concerns. They understand your needs. They provide the information and knowledge you need in order to deal with the crisis. In an attempt to “manage” the crisis, managers often give out confusing and sometimes conflicting information. The most effective positive influence leaders have the knowledge that we all need to get through the crisis; and, perhaps more importantly, they have an ability to communicate that information in a way that we can all understand.

Dr. Deborah Birx, a key member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and a well-respected global health expert, has what has been described as “that essential and rare skill, which is the ability to explain really complicated, fairly technical, scary health situations in a way that ordinary people can hear and say, ‘I understand, and she’s speaking to me.’” She exemplifies what it means to be a teaching style positive influence leader.

Positive Influence Leaders Are Motivators.

They see that something special in you that may not have even been apparent to you. They provide you with the freedom to do your job without micro-managing, because they provide a clear statement of the goal and then get out of the way, allowing you the freedom to figure out how to get it done.  And lastly, they give you access to the resources you need to do the job and empower you to act while making it clear, “I’m here if you need me.” 

Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, the epicenter of the U.S cases of the coronavirus, has spoken directly to the people of the state, asking that they practice sensible sanitation and limit contact with others, especially in groups, because as he said, “We need everyone to be safe, or no one can be safe.” He has motivated the state bureaucracy to cooperate, has used state labs for testing, has forced local officials to close schools and offices, and gotten the military to create more hospital beds to treat virus patients. During this scary time, we need motivators who are going to go to bat for us. Governor Cuomo is doing this for his state.

Positive Influence Leaders Are Role Models.

They can be a powerful force from whom you can learn how to do things “the right way.” You can choose to closely emulate a person you admire or you can simply extract certain traits and integrate them with your style. A role model can also be someone whom you’ve never met, but have admired from afar.

Taiwan’s Vice President, Chen Chien-jen, is an epidemiologist with a doctorate from Johns Hopkins. Under his leadership, when the COVID-19 outbreak in neighboring China first became known to the WHO, Taiwan established a national command center to coordinate all government efforts. They quickly began testing patients for coronavirus; established a toll-free number to encourage citizens to report cases; instituted land and sea border controls, active case finding, and quarantine of people with suspected infection; and ensured the health system had the necessary resources to manage patients with the disease. 

In a time of crisis—war, financial, or medical—Positive Influence Leadership is essential. Whether you are trying to ensure that your teams know you are all in this together, or you are trying to model leadership behavior for an entire country, we all need a leader that is going to have our back and model behavior in a positive way.

As Abraham Lincoln said a very long time ago:

“I am firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the facts.”

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).

How to Cope with Negative Influences | Coping Strategy #1: Embrace the Negativity as a Challenge

How to Cope with Negative Influences | Coping Strategy #1: Embrace the Negativity as a Challenge

Copyright Dmitrii Shironosov,

You are indeed fortunate if all, or even most, of the people in your life are a positive influence. Maybe you were told at a young age that “you can do it” the first time you hoped on a two-wheel bike, auditioned for the school orchestra, tried out for the field hockey team, or stood up to the neighborhood bully.

Unfortunately, most of us encounter people who seek (sometimes unknowingly) to bring us down with their negativity in the name of:

“I’m just trying to be realistic and practical. It’s a long shot.”

Turn the Challenge into a Positive Influence

One practical coping strategy is to take the negativity as a challenge, with an approach that goes something like this: “I’ll prove them wrong.” For example, we have heard people say, “You think I can’t do it; I’ll show you” or “You believe my decision makes no sense. You will eat those words.”

It’s a familiar story. Zane Grey, who wrote 90 books that sold some 50 million copies, faced multiple rejections of the first manuscripts. In fact, one editor told him: “I don’t see anything in this to convince me you can write either narrative or fiction.” Yet Grey persevered, because he wanted to prove them wrong and believed he had stories to tell about the American West that people would want to read.

Gerry, a GE engineer we interviewed for this project, told us about an early negative experience in his life. His high school guidance counselor laughed when Gerry said he wanted to go to college and study engineering. When the counselor told him, “You can’t do it”—Gerry was motivated to prove her wrong. As he told us, “It gave me a chip on my shoulder.”

Jennifer, another person in our study group, was asked skeptically by her mother, “What are you going to do with a history degree?” Jennifer then set out to prove her mother wrong, as she moved from intern to a permanent position and on up to chair and curator at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. As Jennifer told us, “I didn’t see [my mother’s question] as a negative factor, but I did see it as a challenge.” However, she was also quick to acknowledge that her mother’s passion for American history helped create Jennifer’s love of history.

What’s been your experience dealing with negativity? Do you embrace it as a challenge? We’d love to hear your story.

For more stories of how people deal with the forces of negativity, pick up a copy of our new book, Positive Influence: The Leader Who Helps People Become Their Best Self (HRD Press, 2020).