2: The Law of Influence

There are many misconceptions about leadership, chief among them is that when a person is given an impressive title or is assigned to a leadership position, that he is a leader. People, some more than others, may assume a person is a leaders simply because he calls himself one, but when the so-called leader fails to demonstrate leadership, the title is mocked rather than respected. True leadership cannot be awarded or assigned; it comes from the ability to influence others.

A title can get a person a little credit, but only for a short time. His actions will very quickly earn or lose the influence he has over others. There are many people with impressive titles who are regarded with derision and contempt for their inability to live up to them.

Five Myths About Leadership

Power, like money, is shrouded in many misconceptions, especially by people who don't have it and a trying desperately to grasp what it really is. Consider these five common misconceptions:

First, "the management myth" maintains that leading and managing are one in the same. However, management focuses on defining systems and processes that are effective and efficient, focusing mainly on keeping things as they presently are, whereas leadership involves influencing people to use them, focusing on making positive changes. A test to determine whether a manager has leadership is to ask him to effect a positive change - managers are good at describing a change, but often cannot accomplish it because they do not have influence over the people.

Second, "the entrepreneur myth" assumes that anyone is a leader because they have a new idea. In this instance, the fascination with novelty attracts people, and generates sales - but it is fascination with a thing and not respect for the person who invents or or sells it. With few exceptions, most inventors have not been leaders.

Third, "the knowledge myth" is best expressed in Francis Bacon's maxim that "knowledge is power." It is true that knowledge empowers a person to achieve as an individual, but it doesn't automatically confer influence over others. Highly intelligent people are often regarded as effete and out-of-touch with reality in which ordinary people live.

Fourth, "the pioneer myth" assumes that the first person to do something is a leader to those who do it afterward. Others may do the same thing, but they don't necessarily follow the steps of the first person to do so - and in fact, they may follow their own guidance to find a better way to do what someone else has already done. Consider Edmund Hillary, the first man to reach the summit of Everest - the people who did so after him didn't follow the same route and use the same methods. Point of fact, while Hillary is revered for standing first upon the summit, he was merely the most celebrated member of a party who got there, and which was led by a man named John Hunt.

Last, "the position myth" speaks to the opening example, that a person given an important-sounding title is given the ability to lead. When you consider the history of Presidents of the United States, you will find many charismatic men who were elected, but once in office were unable to lead the nation. Another example is Maurice Saatchi, who was dismissed as CEO of a major advertising firm - his best executives followed him, as did some of the biggest accounts. This shows that a man stripped of title and position continued to be regarded as a leader - and the man who replaced him, who took over the title and position, simply was not.

Who Leads?

In some instances, the person with the most impressive title is not, in fact, the leader of an organization, but leadership occurs a few levels lower.

The author gives the example of a team's "head coach", who is applauded for the performance of his team. But it may be one or more of his assistant coaches who is actually providing leadership to the players. If the coach leaves for another team, his old team continues to perform, but his new team doesn't do very well, it becomes apparent that he wasn't the real leader.

The author provides an example of his own experience, taking over as pastor for a church: he had an impressive resume, but when he arrived he found that his role was that of a performer and spokesperson, and the real leadership of the church was with someone else (he intends to use the example in more detail in a later chapter).

He also remarks that leadership in civic organizations is much better than leadership in the corporate world. When you lead volunteers, you don't have the ability to threaten their livelihood if they do not obey your orders, and they will abandon you at any rime if you do not have the ability to exercise influence. This is the value of asking your subordinates to perform service in their community - if they can command the respect of volunteers, you know that they really do have leadership ability.

Case Study: Abraham Lincoln

The author considers the military career of President Abraham Lincoln, who early in his life gathered together a band of troops to fight in the Black Hawk War. In those days, leadership was given to those who provided troops, so by rallying a company, he was automatically granted the rank of captain and the authority to lead the unit.

By the end of his military service, Lincoln found his rightful place, having been busted down to the rank of private. His problem was that he knew nothing of soldiering, couldn't think tactically, and couldn't even remember basic commands. Simply stated, he was a terrible leader.

Fortunately, Lincoln considered the causes of his failure, both in the military and his early career as a politician, and discovered the importance of influence: "He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk."

This underscores the notion that influence is essential to leadership - and also, that it can be learned. Lincoln was clearly not a "born leader", but the wisdom he took from failure enabled him to learn and, eventually, achieve a pinnacle of success.