One of the biggest challenges for young leaders today is that they don’t understand how much influence they have on other people. When I work with people in their teens, 20s, and even 30s, it is not uncommon for them to tell me, “I don’t really have any influence over what other people do in my organization.” For teens, the context is school, sports, church, a fast-food job, or some club. For adults, the context is usually one of their first “real” jobs in a developing career. While the contexts are different, the problem is the same: they don’t understand how much influence they have over others.
My good friend Amy Shattuck addressed this very subject in her latest blog post, “Look Up!” Her opening paragraph reads:
Look up, especially if there are currently others near you. You’ll find it doesn’t take much effort to direct the attention of others in the direction you look. Don’t believe me? Do it. Look up!
She’s right. I remember a very humorous experiment that I conducted as a teenager. I was with a few friends at the Minnesota State Fair. (In Minnesota, we take the Fair pretty seriously. It is the country’s second largest state fair. Last year, over 12 days, almost 1.8 million people entered the gates of the fair!) While walking amongst the crowd, we stopped, I slowly looked up, and then pointed to the sky as if I was looking at something. In reality, I was only imagining something there.
Then, my friends slowly followed my gaze up, and they, too, began to point to the sky—at nothing. We didn’t say much other than, “Do you see that?” “Yeah, what is that?” In just a few seconds, as we stole glances downward toward other people, we noticed that others began to look up, too. As they stopped to look up, they influenced others to do the same. Some even began to point with us. Soon we had a small crowd stopped in the middle of the street, looking into the sky at nothing, blocking the flow of thousands of people! I suspect a few who joined us had caught on to the game, but that’s irrelevant in that they were still proving the point that we were influencing others.
Why is this important? This simple exercise (which I encourage you to try at some large, public gathering), shows that very simple behaviors have a significant influence on others. We all influence other people. Amy highlighted this point in her blog:
We’re always being observed … by our boss, colleague, teacher, peer, parent, friend and yes, even by our foe. Those observations carry with them incredible opportunities, but if we lack awareness, they will be missed. With the choices I make personally, I have opportunities to influence someone in either a positive or negative manner. That choice will cause others to at least momentarily direct their attention my way.
Our ability to influence others is simultaneously easy and significant! That combination can be an positively powerful or terribly dangerous!
The choice of positively powerful or terribly dangerous is yours and it is tied directly to what you choose to look at. I’m not referring to looking at nothingness in the sky. I am referring to your choices about what to look at in what you read, people you associate with, even the televisions shows you watch. What you look at will “program” you and determine whether your influence is positive and powerful or negative and dangerous.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8, ESV)