Influence is the Value Force of Leadership

by  Guest Author  |  Leadership Development
Influence is the Value Force of Leadership

This post is part of our 2017 Lead Change Group Guest Blogger Series. Today we are pleased to share a post from Jeff Thurston.

All leaders have a sphere of influence. It can be defined as the context in which influence is felt. In some cases, this sphere of influence is small, perhaps extending only to an immediate coworker, friend, or family member. In other cases, it is felt across the entire organization, such as in the case of a CEO. In rare cases, a leader’s sphere of influence can extend across an entire industry, nation, or even all of society. An effective CEO such as Steve Jobs for example, can cause financial markets to shift, buying patterns to stall, or entire industries to scramble. And in many such cases, it takes no more than a simple statement.

Clearly, these are two extremes of the influence spectrum. So it is important to understand that the influence spectrum is wide-ranging and vast. Because of this, there are many opportunities for just about anyone to have influence and thus to begin their own journey of leadership. One simply has to recognize these opportunities and to understand how to wield influence within their own sphere.

To understand these opportunities requires a fundamental understanding of influence because influence is the value force of leadership. Influence determines the extent and effectiveness of the leader. Influence can take many forms and in most cases, an effective leader will leverage many forms of influence to achieve a desired response. This is a skill that is built up over time, as one embarks on their own leadership journey.

Take the example the CEO role. One form of influence that is inherent in this role is positional influence; the CEO is “the boss” and therefore the organization follows. Many CEOs will likely tell you that there are limits to positional influence and that it should be used sparingly, if at all. A CEO who simply barks out orders is unlikely to remain effective for very long. There are better forms of influence that are far more effective and far more sustainable. A good leader will have an arsenal of influence-based strategies that help to define him or her as a leader and ultimately define their success.

Trust may be one of the most common and effective forms of influence. A leader who has built a great deal of trust is far more likely to be able to influence a situation than one who is unknown. A new leader’s sphere of influence may be initially established only through positional influence. But as that manager achieves success, trust begins to build. Eventually, those in his sphere of influence may be thinking, “This guy has a pretty good track record, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and follow his lead.” In some cases, some may follow without being convinced of the benefits in doing so; they are following because they trust the leader to lead them to success.

Another common form of influence is intimidation. Most leaders would likely agree that intimidation is not a sustainable form of influence, but it does have its place. It could be because other forms of influence have not been sufficiently successful. Or perhaps intimidation is based on an emotional reaction to a challenging situation. Consider a situation where a high-profile project team has missed deadline after deadline and nothing else seems to work. A manager might be inclined to turn to intimidation through a statement such as “You have now missed our deadline 3 times, so if you want to keep your jobs, you’ll work the weekend to ensure that this project is completed by Monday.” Intimidation as a form of influence can be effective, but a good leader will rarely use it to achieve a desired result because it tends to overshadow and undermine more sustainable forms of influence.

Trust, intimidation, and position are just three types of influence. There are many others that are common and effective. To discuss them all would likely fill an entire book. But if you stop to think about it, you may realize that nearly everyone is able to exert some form of influence in everyday life. Are you using that influence wisely and to your benefit? Are you doing what you can to achieve good outcomes for you, your team, or your family? As your day unfolds, give some thought to the influence you have and how you leverage it within your sphere of influence to make good things happen.

Jeff Thurston has been leading teams of various shapes and sizes most of his life. Throughout his professional life, he has been in various information technology leadership roles ranging from project management to executive management. Jeff currently lives in the St. Louis area with his wife of 32 years. They have two sons; one is a school teacher and the other studies physics at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.


Has someone influenced you through their leadership? Tell me more in the comments!
Photo Credit: Jirsak/123RF

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What People Are Saying

Marcus walfridson  |  17 Feb 2017  |  Reply

Thank you for this post!

Would you say that influence, regardless of type, is one of the main characteristics of leadership?

Could one say that if you have influence over another person you are per definition a leader?

Jeff Thurston  |  24 Feb 2017  |  Reply

Hello Marcus,

I agree that influence is the main characteristic, and quite possibly a requirement of leadership, regardless of type. You pose an interesting idea in your statement that one is a leader of anyone with whom one has influence. That idea seems valid and is certainly worth careful consideration!

Thank you for your comments!

Shaun Duvall  |  03 Mar 2017  |  Reply


I really enjoyed your post. I was just listening to a Tom Izzo interview regarding influence and he had some interesting insights as well.

He mentioned that a leader can “motivate” and “inspire” people, but there is a big difference. You can motivate an employee/team but is is only good for short spurts (like a shot of adrenaline), but when people are inspired they take ownership and it is long-lasting. He said you can only go to the well so many times when it comes to motivating a person or team.

He then made a statement that that really hit me, “are you trying to just win games or trying to build a program.” “Great leaders don’t just motivate, they inspire!”

Jeff Thurston  |  08 Mar 2017  |  Reply

Thank you for sharing your thoughts Shaun.

As we consider different types of influence and the ways that we build and exert it, it would certainly seem that motivation and inspiration are two of the major types. This aligns well with the attempt to contrast influence by discussing positional influence and intimidation, both of which clearly fall into the motivation category, and both of which are typically not sustainable.

It could be argued that inspiration is the purest, most desirable form of influence. Not only is it far more sustainable, but it is also more likely to be based on a far deeper response to a leader’s actions or works.

The quote included at the end of your response reminds us that leadership is a toolbox. For effective leaders, the toolbox includes many different types of influence, all of which are likely to be more effective than others in certain situations. An effective leader should always be working to accumulate such tools, and to use them in various situations when appropriate.

Taylor T.  |  31 Mar 2017  |  Reply

This post has definitely given me a lot of insight to the type of influences a leader can have. I did not even realize there were various forms of influences. I am in a position where I am the leader of a small committee. One committee member does not have the best track record with task completion, and I am finding it hard to display a trusting influence. This influence seems the most effective, so what would your advice be for me to develop more trust with this other individual and allow this person more creative freedom in the group?

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