I’m not talking about social media influencers, people who have mastered the art of Tik Tok or Instagram or any of the other platforms to get us to buy or think differently. No, I’m talking about that man or woman who, by their presence, exerts an almost mystical effect on others. They inspire movement. They shape discourse. They carry an outsized level of natural authority.
How do they get there? How does that happen?
This kind of stuff fascinates me. I am an aficionado of good leadership. You’ll see that pop up from time to time in my writing. I’ve written about what causes people to admire others. I’ve explored the sources of bad leadership. And the idea of developing a leader’s purpose and calling is the focus of my life right now.
So, the theory behind the development of influence is something I’ve given a lot of thought to. Years ago, my friend Gary Mayes, himself a great leader and developer of leaders, introduced to me the idea he called The Ladder of Influence. I’ve tweaked it over time and have used it to help others and measure my own influence in the world.
Here it is. The Ladder of Influence. There are four rungs or steps on this ladder. I’ll start at the top and work my way down.
The top step is INFLUENCE, itself. Influence is another word for leadership. This is what leaders, whether parents, bosses, teachers or coaches really are seeking to do, is it not? “Eat your veggies”, “bring me a report”, “get your miles in today” …all are instructions that rely on influence to get done. The best leaders are people of amazing influence.
How does a leader get to that top rung? Well, many try to get there with intimidation. They wield their title like a hammer. They are quick to whip out the org chart. Or they bully people into compliance with emotional manipulation and fear. Some even resort to lies and deception to influence others. Oh, it works, but never long term, and those kinds of fake leaders are usually reviled.
No, the best step up to solid, influential leadership is through SPIRITUAL AUTHORITY. That’s the next rung down. And by spiritual I do not mean religious. I’m talking small “s” spiritual. More like natural, inherent or even mystical authority. You know the kind of person I’m talking about. You WANT to follow their lead. There is something about them that oozes inspiration. Your respect for them is great. You might not jump off the bridge if they told you to, but you’d think about it because you trust them so much!
How does one acquire such spiritual weight? What step will get you there? It is CHARACTER, the accumulated positive traits that form an excellent reputation. Think of people you know with this disposition. They are people of integrity, longsuffering, grit, patience, honesty, courage and kindness. They tell the truth. And they are others focused…it’s never about them. As I described in that previous blog post, these are people we admire. These are the kind of people who carry spiritual authority, which makes them people of influence.
Which brings us to the first rung on our ladder of influence. How does a person develop a fine character? This one will likely surprise you. The step up to character is how you respond or react to PAIN, which is the likely result of failure, loss or poor choices. It can be physical pain, or emotional or financial or relational. It’s when things just hurt.
Now, mind you, it is not a natural next step from pain to character. You move higher on the ladder of influence depending on what you DO with your pain. Let me use your hand as a metaphor for a reaction to pain. Some people deal with their hurt or frustration by clenching their fist in anger. They lash out. They whine. They are aggrieved and they let you know it. The world has done them wrong and they don’t mind telling you. These kinds of folks NEVER develop character, thus have no spiritual authority and can only muster some limited form of manipulation to lead.
Other folks in pain clench their fist not in a form of attack but, rather, in a self-protective retreat. Imagine them pulling their fist close to their chest. They clam up. They hide their emotions. They lick their wounds as they slip into depression. Ultimately, they pull away from others. It goes without saying, doesn’t it, that this too will bear little fruit of character within them and leave them bereft of authority and influence.
No, there is only one hand gesture that personifies a willingness to be transformed in the midst of pain. That is the open palm. It imagines a desire to learn through the hurt. It represents a willingness to be shaped in the mess. It signifies “I want to be a better person through this struggle”.
As these people walk with a limp you can almost watch them, in real time, grow in integrity, and courage, and longsuffering, and understanding. These open-palmed men and women are people of dignity. Their authority is most mystical and powerful. Their influence is profound. You will follow them anywhere.
May I get personal for a moment? Right now, for a number of reasons, I find myself again on the bottom rung. Maybe not so much pain, but definitely uncertainty and struggle. I’m trying to peel my fingers back and be palms up. It isn’t easy. Right? I want to be a person of influence, not an agrieved whiner.
I’ll bet you do too. Perhaps we can hold the ladder for each other and cheer each other on to the next step.