Influence is a key part of a leader’s foundation. Even with competence, experience, and the will to act; without influence you will be acting alone.
Being a leader is being in a close relationship with the members of your team. To think that mere title or position grants you the status of leader is akin to assuming that you are going to marry your blind date on the first date before you get to know them, gain their trust, and form a meaningful relationship.
How do you get your team to follow you into danger without shared bonds of trust? How do you get your team to change behavior without dynamic, two-way respect? Simply put, you can't.
I have a flag on my wall that was captured during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. My entire rifle platoon signed it, and then wrote in big letters, “We Made Stupid Look Good.” The phrase ‘make stupid look good’ was coined by one of my sergeants, acerbically commenting on some of the orders I gave. It turned out to be our unofficial platoon motto, one that I was proud of. It showed that my troops were willing to do what was required of them even if they did not understand or appreciate its importance. My platoon was disciplined and trustworthy. They followed orders because we had mutual trust and respect. I showed that I trusted them by allowing them to exercise initiative without my interference and I respected them as people, never abusing my position. That trust and respect was reciprocated. Despite the complaining, they worked with me and did what I asked them to do even when they thought it was stupid. In fact, they made it look good.
And a lot of leadership involves translating priorities from higher down to lower and pushing issues from lower back to higher. And on both ends, sometimes the translation can be tough. It may sound ‘stupid’. No person is going to act on something that they think is ‘stupid' if someone they neither trust nor respect asks them to do it.
As a leader, you have to be that translator, that grease on the cogs, that person that can get other people to act even when they may not fully appreciate what is going on. As a leader, you have to get people to trust and respect you.
If people don’t trust you, you aren’t a leader. If people don’t respect you, you can’t lead them.