I think sometimes there is a misperception that the amount of influence you have comes from how much control you can exert. You can influence people if you can get them to do what you want by creating a situation where they have no choice, whether they realize that or not. Some people believe that influence is the same as power, and power is gained with compliance measures that people are forced to do in order to prove that person has that power, and then that power is perceived as influence.
The fact of the matter is that even with what I know about education and my beliefs about leadership, I will still do what I’m told when it comes to compliance measures because realistically I want to keep my job. But that’s the only reason why. Compliance measures rarely create buy-in. Now accountability is another story, but creating opportunities for me to show I am doing my job well and forcing me to do something that I don’t feel is best for kids is two totally separate things. Many compliance measures that I’m made to do may not directly affect students, but they do take up valuable time that I could be spending in classrooms with teachers or with kids. But, I digress. My point is that just because I participate in a compliance measure does not mean the person who implemented that measure has influenced me.
As I’ve watched people throughout the years, there are few characteristics that I always find an influential people, at least the ones that have been influential in my life.
- They are kind. Some of them exceedingly so.
- They can laugh at themselves and be okay with you laughing with them.
- They ask how you are with genuine interest.
- They give a compliment without expecting one back.
- They give quality feedback; feedback that people can actually implement immediately. They welcome feedback in return.
- They admit when they don’t know, and they say they’re sorry when they are wrong.
- They are passionate, knowledgeable and engaged in whatever their focus is because they truly believe that what they know is valuable and can help people in some way.
- They never ask me to do anything that they wouldn’t be willing do themselves.
Influencers create change because their passion makes you want to believe what they believe. And when I look back on that list, every single characteristic that I have seen in the influencers I know have to do with creating relationships and maintaining those relationships. Just treating other people like valuable human beings. The second you forget that we work with other people, who have stories and struggles and personalities and quirks and different strengths and weaknesses, is this second that you have officially missed your mark. If you start to believe that the amount of power you exert over somebody else is more important than their well-being, you have forgotten why you’re in education. I heard a quote from an amazing commencement speech called the Wisdom of a Third Grade Dropout by Rick Rigsby the other day that said always make sure your servant’s towel is bigger than your ego. Always remembering that legitimate passion and genuine compassion for other people is the way that you change their hearts and then their minds.