photo credit: Jehyun sung @jaysung – unsplash

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” —Mark Twain

What Is Leadership?

It has been said that everything rises and falls on leadership. And what is leadership but the “art of Influence”? We are all leaders at certain points and periods in our lives whether we realize it or not. There will always be people over whom we have an influence to some degree; this is indisputable. But the question arises, what kind of influence do we or will we have? People around us are watching us. Our children are watching us, our colleagues are watching us and our friends and acquaintances are watching us.

Everything we do or say will have an impact on other people. People want to know if we are honest and trustworthy. They want to see if we are dependable and loyal. By our very words and especially our actions, we are influencers in our entourage. Do our actions match our words?  The degree to which people will listen to us, take us seriously and even follow us will depend on the degree to which we “walk our talk'”.

Building The Leader In You

You may say to yourself “I am not really a leader”, but I will tell you that many times when we are influencing others, we are, in some manner, leading them. We may not feel we are leading, but leadership is less about position or authority than it is about having an impact. In our spheres of influence, we are either impacting in a positive way or a negative way. And there is a ripple effect to this influence because we not only impact those close to us, but these people will, in turn, impact those in their spheres of influence. So leadership or influence can have ever-expanding ramifications around us.

Knowing this should cause us to think about what kind of impact (if at all) we are having. Sometimes we may think that our words, actions, and decisions might not make a difference because our sphere of influence is so limited. But just as a tiny pebble tossed into a lake makes a small insignificant splash and then causes ripples to expand out, so too will our smallest of actions move outward beyond what we imagine.

If we want to build the leader in us we will need to fight two battles:

The Internal Battle

We all know that working on ourselves, growing and improving is important, Very few will deny that growth is important t(whether we choose to develop ourselves or not). We all know that we need to be able to govern ourselves before we can lead well. However, the problem is that we tend to overestimate how well we are doing. We are quite adept at deceiving ourselves. We are often blind to our weaknesses and overestimate our strengths. We need others to open our eyes to our own weaknesses.

If we want to have a positive influence on others, we must first obtain internal victories. The internal victories come before the external victories. We must first change how we think on the inside before we can see change on the outside. It is a battle that we need to engage in continuously.

The External Battle

While most will agree that internal growth is important, what we may not be prepared for is the external battle, the opposition we will surely face. In general, our society likes it when we conform to the world and stay the way we are. It doesn’t like movers and shakers. It is not particularly fond of people who think about and question the status quo. Whenever we seek to try and change things, we shouldn’t be surprised by the wall that goes up against us because the status quo doesn’t like change.

To prepare for and fight this battle of mediocrity, we will need to band with like-minded people, those who share the same goals and who are on the same path. It is always good to have reinforcements because the status quo critics will try to say that they are right and we are wrong. They will be more than willing to show us why we should be satisfied with the way we are. In fact, the critics are afraid of change, both in themselves and in others.

A Leader’s Uniform

A leader wears a very unique kind of uniform that enables him or her to navigate through the rough waters of conflict, busyness, indifference and general messiness of life. This same uniform is available to us all, but wearing it will not be easy.

Have a Soft Heart and Thick Skin

In order to make a difference in people’s lives and in society, in order to be able to influence people around, a leader needs these two qualities: a soft heart and thick skin. So toughness on the outside, the ability to weather the storms, and a tender-hearted inside are crucial tools in the leader’s toolbox.

Building Thick Skin

So how do we develop this thick skin? The tough mindset and posture come from having proper thinking and self-knowledge. It comes from knowing who we are and what we stand for. Being thick -skinned also means having a proper perspective on things and not being easily swayed by opinions or events. We could almost call it an “outside ” view or even ‘”helicopter” view of life. Having thick skin means not taking ourselves or others and events too seriously.

To have proper thinking we need to control the story we tell ourselves about who we are, about what our purpose is and what our values are. We need to control what comes into our mind (and guard it jealously and also what we choose to think and believe. We need to always be aware that circumstances do not determine what happens to us, but that what we think and do, determines what happens. roper thinking enables us to take the gut shots of life not as defeats, but as challenges and lessons.

Remember, thick skin means, above all, having perspective. It means not getting caught up in emotional traps and endless and pointless arguments. It means keeping the focus, keeping the main thing, the main thing and not succumbing to distractions and emotional hijacking.

Have A Soft Heart

The other side of the uniform of a leader is a soft (or tender) heart. Please understand that I am not talking about being a pushover or a “carpet”. Rather, a soft heart maintains our humanity and connection to others. Where thick skin allows us to maintain focus and perspective, a soft heart allows us to be compassionate and share in the pain and struggles of others. a soft heart allows us to empathize and keeps us humble (two other important leadership qualities).

It is very hard to have a positive and transformational influence over people when they can not feel our humanity. If all they see (or sense) is a tough exterior and business-like mindset, then they will not be very willing to trust us or follow us. It has been said that if call yourself a leader but no one is following, then you are just out for a walk.

Parents, who have been given the responsibility of raising children ( and future adults), will have difficulty influencing change in the behavior in their children if all the children see is the tough, authoritative and no-nonsense exterior. Bosses and supervisors who do not seek to connect with their employees and listen to them will likely generate disgruntled and uncooperative behavior from them. A balance between a tough exterior and a  soft, humble interior is the true uniform of a leader.

Be Principled

Self-mastery is crucial to leadership and self-mastery stems from a solid foundation of strong principles. These principles, if built on a solid foundation of values, will affect and influence every sphere of our lives. Three of the most important spheres which are guided by our principles are:

  • Our character

  • Our tasks (what we do and how well we do it)

  • Our relationships

These three spheres come from the New York Best-Selling book:  Launching a Leadership Revolution by authors Orrin Woodward  and Chris Brady

Having solid principles allows us;

  • To know what is true and what is not and how to tell the difference

  • To not be swayed by the winds of society and the media

  • To make bold decisions

  • To be authentic

  • To confront reality

  • To confront ourselves

Create A Ripple Effect

Everything we do impacts the world around us. Even a small action or word can affect our lives. Whether we realize it or not, we are like pebbles being thrown into a lake which then create concentric ripples further and further out from the original splash (point of impact). The question is, what kind of ripple effect do we want to create in our lives and the lives of those around us? Our ripple effect can be a positive and impactful one, or it can be an unimpactful one. It is really up to us.

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Diana’s passions are family, travel, self-improvement, living a debt-free/financially free life. She also loves hanging out with family, friends and being with her dog, Skye. You can connect with her through