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, 123rf.com

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, 123rf.com

“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, 123rf.com

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, 123rf.com

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).

Finding Your True North: The Power of Motivating Positive Influence

Finding Your True North: The Power of Motivating Positive Influence

Copyright Burmakin Andrey, 123rf.com

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).