Without Influence, I’m Just a Boss

As a kid, I was often told that being the boss made you a leader. A boss sits atop the organizational chart and tells people what to do and how to things get done. At 18 years old, I had the opportunity to host a talk radio program for teens and college-aged students. I quickly found people to work for me and I built a team of 12 people. Unfortunately, I was a great boss but a lousy leader. I didn’t understand the answer to the question: What is leadership?

Within a few months, our program had become the number two most listened to program in our region. This seemed to solidify my understanding of leadership. I was barking out orders, people were following them, and the organization grew in listeners each week. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that my team didn’t do anything unless I told them what to do and they didn’t really like being told what to do. It was especially tough to lead those who had recently discovered their minor celebrity status. I did have one tool that every boss has in their tool belt that allows them to counter bad attitudes: I could terminate those who refused to follow my orders. No matter how many times I threatened to fire those who didn’t get in line, I never did. I didn’t need to. People on my “team” quit on a regular basis. In fact, those remaining on the team began to talk about it as if it were a normal part of talk radio. We would talk about how difficult it was to find people who truly loved our audience and were willing to put in the work to make the show a success.

The sad truth is that my love for the audience and being a boss that demanded action wasn’t enough to create a successful program. The program’s ratings eventually plateaued and I found myself working harder and giving more direction with limited return on my investment.

Finally, my pastor handed me 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell and said, “I think you will find this book helpful.” I misinterpreted that to mean, “You are such a great leader, I think you will like this book.” I put the book on my shelf and thought I would get around to reading it when I had the time.

A few months later, my dad attended a leadership conference and bought a book written by the keynote speaker. The book was 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. This time, his message to me was a little more clear. “There are some really good things in this book that I think will help you as you build your radio program.” At this point, I was struggling to maintain our current level of quality programming. Only three people were working on the program and I was doing all that I could to keep similar ratings from week to week. I didn’t have the time to read a book!

Then it happened. One evening as I was walking out the front door to go to the radio station, my wife said, “If you don’t change how you lead your people, you will not have anyone left to lead.” I took her comments to heart… two weeks later. For two weeks, I thought I could prove her wrong. I took the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership off of the shelf and I searched for all of the evidence I needed to do just that. However, everything I read proved her right. Here are a few quotes from the book that affected me most:

“True Leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence and that cannot be mandated.

To be a leader, a person has to not only be out front, but also have people intentionally coming behind him, following his lead, and acting on his vision.

The interaction between every leader and follower is a relationship, and all relationships either add value to or subtract from a person’s life.”

Prior to reading the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, I had declared myself the leader but had not developed a relationship or shared a vision for success with anyone on the team. I was the boss, but I didn’t have any influence with them beyond what was required for job security. Without influence, I wasn’t a leader.

Twenty years later, I am no longer in talk radio, but I am still studying leadership development. It has afforded me the opportunity to lead teams of just a few dozen people to organizations of several thousand. Regardless of where I am going, I have learned that if no one is following me, I am only taking a walk. As John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.”

This post originally appeared on John Maxwell’s The Leading Edge blog: http://johnmaxwellteam.com/2017/03/14/what-is-leadership/



Welcome to the Faceless Leaders Blog

Thank you for visiting the Faceless Leaders blog.  As someone who has been in a leadership role in numerous organizations over the past 20 years, I created this blog as a resource for those who hope to improve their leadership.  In John Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Maxwell defines leadership as influence- nothing more, nothing less.  If that is the case, then all of us are leaders in some way because we influence people every day.  (My guess is that you already consider yourself a leader to some degree or you would not be reading a blog on leadership.) Unfortunately, we all know people (possibly even ourselves) who misuse or abuse their ability to influence others.

This blog is for the leader who has said, “If I only had better employees, volunteers or students…” My hope is that you will read my posts, learn from my failures, and see that your people are your greatest assets.

This blog is for the discouraged leader.  I hope to share stories, answers to real-life questions, and other materials that I and other leaders have developed that will encourage you in your leadership journey.

This blog is for the leader that says they are too old to change.  I hope that you will read the stories of the many “seasoned” leaders I have encountered and realize you are too old not to change.

This blog is for the young leader who fears admitting that they have no idea how to influence people without relying on a title or position of authority.  I hope you will read my stories, laugh at my ridiculous efforts to prove myself a leader, and realize that true leadership is when people follow you because they “want to” not because they “have to.”

This blog is for the many other leaders that desire bigger dreams, clear direction, and meaningful lives. My hope is that you will find the maker of dreams, the giver of direction and the one who gives life embedded in the words of this blog.

As you read the blog, if you have comments or questions, please feel free to contact me anytime at Michael.willis@thecolorninegroup.com.