Over the past seven months, I’ve had the privilege of being a part of the faculty of the Sheriff’s Institute for Ethical Leadership Development (SHIELD) established by Sheriff Greg Hamilton at Travis County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) in Austin, Texas. The program is for mid-management personnel with an eye toward identifying and cultivating future leaders of TCSO.
Toward the end of the program, each participant develops a detailed proposal regarding a specific aspect of the daily operations of the Sheriff’s Office that could be improved or new programs or policies that could be implemented. They then stand before a committee and argue the merits of their proposals.
In last week’s final class of the 2014 program, we discussed the vision that each participant has for the department (an essential ingredient in their proposals). The conversation also covered how the participants might change what they’re doing today to get better results tomorrow.
For one of the participants, the simple realization that he is more influential than he thought changed his whole outlook. He came to see that his influence—like yours—spreads far beyond the immediate impact he could see. And in appreciating his influence, he came to understand that he is already a leader.
Leadership is frequently thought of as the small number of people at the top of an organization, a kind of elite group defined by their position in the hierarchy. That definition has been transformed into a much broader understanding: “Everyone,” says leadership expert John Maxwell, “is a leader because everyone influences someone.”
If someone asked you if you’re a leader, it’s likely you would say no. But if someone asked you if you influence people, you couldn’t help but say yes. And I’m willing to bet you influence far more people than you think.
Take the case of the SHIELD participants. If their policy proposal is accepted by the committee they present it to, they could be influencing thousands and even tens of thousands of people. They may be creating a better work environment, streamlining procedures and saving the taxpayers money, improving public safety, or helping to save lives.
You may not think you influence many people. But remember, every person you influence is going to interact with numerous people themselves.
Your ability to treat people fairly may influence them to treat people fairly. Your ability to listen to people’s concerns may influence them to listen to people’s concerns. Your ability to make someone’s day will be felt by people you didn’t even come in contact with.
Some of us downplay our ability to be influential—our ability to be a leader—for the world around us. I believe you’re more powerful than you think.
Keep in mind this one simple point: You are always modeling the way, you are always being a leader.
People will watch you to find out what is acceptable and define some of their actions based on your actions. The only question is whether your influence will be a positive one or a negative one.
How is your leadership influencing the world around you?