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).

In Times of Crisis: We Need a Positive Influence Leader

In Times of Crisis: We Need a Positive Influence Leader

Copyright Wavebreak Media Ltd,  123rf.com

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).

No One Can Do It For You, But You Don’t Have To Do It Alone

No One Can Do It For You, But You Don’t Have To Do It Alone

Copyright lekstuntkite, 123rf.com

Learn How Positive Influence Leaders Provide a Hand Up, Not a Hand Out

If you are fortunate, there are people along the way that provide just the right help at the very time that you need it. We have come to call these people Positive Influence Leaders. Capturing the essence of that idea, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall famously said:

None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody—a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony, or a few nuns—bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

Our research clearly shows that many people have been influenced by a teacher, a manager, or a parent who said, “You can do it” or “I will help you get through it.” Call it a mentor, a coach, or simply a friend, someone was there for you at a critical juncture in your life. For example, Oprah Winfrey cites author and poet Maya Angelou as a special person who provided guidance through some of the most critical periods in her life. 

Leslie, one of the people in our study group, after a number of years in the workforce, went back to graduate school to become a teacher. She was fortunate to encounter a professor who instilled in her a passion for teaching. He taught her all the practical tools she needed to be successful in the classroom, but he didn’t map out a plan for her. 

Dr. Benjamin Mays, former president of Morehouse College, met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was an undergraduate at Morehouse, and the two remained close until Dr. King passed away in 1968. In his speeches and writings, Dr. King’s emphasis on the dignity of all human beings and the failure of America to live up to its stated ideals came from Dr. Mays. 

Frank, an IT manager we interviewed, coached a member of his team to handle user complaints without getting defensive. As Frank told us, “I didn’t intervene with the users; rather, I let him learn by handling it himself.”

Hall of Fame basketball player Bill Russell said his mother was a great mentor: “She taught me to stand up for myself, to use my brainpower on my behalf.” Although his mother died when he was twelve, her influence stayed with him throughout his life, influencing his thoughts, goals, and aspirations. Russell’s life is replete with examples of independent thinking and standing up for his beliefs.

In all of these cases, and in many others, the person was not handed a business or a job or a part in a movie. The gift they received was a “hand up”an inspiring or supportive message from an influential person. That leader, mentor, teacher, coach, or parent was a positive influence on them, such that they credit their success to that relationship. It is their strongly held belief that:

 “Without this person, I would not be where I am today.” 

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).