Leading Requires Influence


The term “leader” is often associated with leaders of organizations—businesses, nonprofits, and religious organizations—but there are really many different types of leaders. You don’t have to be a CEO or manager in order to be a leader. Leaders emerge in many different kinds of situations and many different styles of leadership can be effective, depending on the environment.

For example, I used to work with a company on the border in Mexico, and there was a point where there was a lot of drug and gang activity going on in the area. One night, I had to go through a section of town where it was pretty dark, and I remember being very scared. At one point, I walked through a particular area where a gang was loitering and I was stopped by them. I noticed that there was one guy who held a certain command. He wasn’t  bigger or stronger than anybody else, pretty average actually, but everyone was just waiting for him to give a sign. He stopped me in the middle of the road and didn’t allow me to get through. We engaged in a conversation and I was able to manage it in a way that he finally allowed me to cross without taking anything from me.

As I was walking away, it struck me, “What is it that makes this average-looking guy the leader of this group of people?” He had, in some way or another, a position of influence that affected the behavior of the others. He has no formal title or corner office, but he is a leader. He has followers. He defines what is good for his group and dictates how they are going to behave. It’s a fairly autocratic leadership style, but it works for that gang. This significant influence that he has is very different from some of the managers and leaders that I work with in different organizations. Being a leader is more than just having a title. It’s having influence.

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