Pleased to welcome this guest post from Bruce Harpham.
In the world of music, composers and performers are influenced by each other every day. I was recently reminded of this tendency when I enjoyed a performance by pianist Richard Rubin. He showed how Andrew Lloyd Weber, the Broadway composer behind The Phantom of the Opera and other works, liberally borrowed from musical works. In some cases, it is clear who influenced Weber’s work.
Scientists are also heavily influenced by their peers. Ground-breaking scientist Isaac Newton observed, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” That is a powerful idea for all leaders to consider. However independent minded you are, others influence your leadership approach.
Choose your leadership influences carefully.
The Rule of Five: Understanding Your Influences
If you take pride in your independence, this section may be hard. As a leader, you are constantly influenced by those you lead, fellow executives and others. Influences are inescapable.
In our complex world, it is challenging to imagine all the influences that impact you. The country you live in, your education, your age, and your leisure pursuits are some of the influences that leave lasting traces.
The most important influence on your leadership is the people all around you. Answering the question “Which five people do I spend the most time with?” is the easiest way to understand your influences. Don’t worry if you don’t like the answer! That discontent gives you the fuel to make a change.
Tip: Start small by changing your focus. Use the final section of this article to find one new person to provide positive leadership influence.
Growth Is Not Automatic: Harness Helpful Influences To Grow
John C. Maxwell’s excellent book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth emphasizes the importance of growth. Maxwell points out that growth happens naturally in childhood. In adulthood, growth is not automatic (except around the waistline!)
You may grow occasionally when a new obstacle comes your way. Accidental growth is not reliable. Would you buy a car that only worked “on occasion?” Not if you valued your time. In order to grow your skills to reach new goals, you must grow intentionally.
With the right influences, greater growth will come fast and furious. Mentors, coaches, sponsors and others can bring new perspectives, questions and resources.
With the wrong influences, your leadership will never grow. Even worse, the constant doubts and negativity will undermine whatever leadership qualities you have.
Accessing New Influences
By this point, you’re convinced about the importance of influence. Even more, you understand that the right influence can push you toward your goals. Read on for ideas to cultivate positive influences.
Books (Hint: Go Beyond The Business Section!)
For years, I have accessed new influences, ideas and opportunities through books. I often find myself browsing through the business section at my bookstore. For growing leaders, that is only the beginning. I also strongly encourage you to read widely – consider Ryan Holiday’s recommendations for Moral Biographies for example.
Here are two book suggestions to bring new influences into your leadership thinking.
- Tribes by Seth Godin
Godin is best known for his expertise in marketing and the Internet. Tribes is Godin’s contribution to leadership. He points out that today’s tool makes it easier to build a tribe of followers behind your ideas. The only barrier is you. Do you have the skills and commitment to lead?
- Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson.
Known to many for his studies in electricity, Franklin has much to teach us. Franklin regularly changed his occupation: from entrepreneur publisher, to diplomat and American statesman. For those interested in personal development, I also encourage you to read Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography – Franklin’s desire to better himself through self-education, study and moral discipline is well worth studying.
Consulting and Coaching
Once upon a time, accessing consulting was out of reach for most people. That is starting to change. Today, you can hire coaches and consultants for reasonable rates. For less than $500 using a website like Clarity FM, you can obtain helpful, customized recommendations to help you reach your goals.
For the best results, prepare and send out a written agenda for your first meeting. Bring several written questions that you can reference. Now is not the time for an unfocused conversation. For the best results, I recommend bringing a paper notebook (I prefer Moleskine notebooks for their durability and easy-to-handle size) and pen rather than an electronic device.
Follow these seven steps to get the most out of your time working with a coach. I recommend having at least two coaching sessions, with an interval of one to four weeks in between.
- Decide on a single goal to pursue, preferably with a clear measure (e.g. “to sell 1,000 copies of my book” or “to land my first executive management role in the financial industry”).
- Study your coach’s materials before you contact them. (e.g. visit the person’s website and read multiple articles. If they strike you as promising, I suggest buying and reading one of their books next). Take notes as you study their material. If they cannot clearly communicate their abilities, I suggest you move on. Tip: Search for coaches and consultants on Google by searching for “keyword coach” or “keyword consultant” (e.g. “project management consultant” or “productivity coach”)
- Based on steps 1 and 2, decide whether this coach can help you in your current quest. If yes, continue to the next step. Otherwise, return to step two to review another person.
- Prepare for your first meeting with the coach. Complete any forms or questionnaires. Make a list of your goals and questions in writing.
- Attend the first meeting with your coach. State your goals clearly and ask for specific homework – vague suggestions such as “work harder” need to be refined and made specific (e.g. improve your ability to give feedback to staff).
- Work on your homework from the first session. Make notes on what you achieve and what you want to discuss next time.
- Attend the second meeting with your coach. Review your first meeting, homework completed and discuss your next challenge.