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There are a number of great leaders out there. You might be one of them. But what is leadership? Leadership is the use of social influence to inspire peak performance in others as they work to reach a goal. That seems pretty straightforward, and it is. But let’s break this definition down and take a closer look at what leadership is, and what it is not.

SOCIAL INFLUENCE

Social influence is the ability to affect the attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors of a group of people without exerting force or exercising authority.  Great leaders have a high level of social influence. 

Don’t let the word “social” mislead you.  Social influence is not about being larger than life, a great speaker, or feeling at ease in socials settings.  Contrary to the perception of many, you don’t have to be an extrovert to wield a high degree of social influence.  Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi were introverts, so are Steven Spielberg and Bill Gates.  It’s not about personality; it’s about influence.

PEAK PERFORMANCE

What is peak performance? It’s more than just trying hard. Peak performance is putting forth maximum effort in the application of relevant tools, in a manner that results in the most progress possible. But we often use discretion when it comes to performance; sometimes we give it all we’ve got, sometimes we don’t.

Great leaders exercise considerable social influence to inspire peak performance. The resulting progress can be significant and sustained. But if performance is forced by the use of authority, any progress will most likely be marginal and/or temporary.

REACHING GOALS

Peak performance, inspired by social influence, is delivered in pursuit of a goal. A goal is simply a desired outcome: it’s the point at which efforts end. Great leaders use social influence to move people toward that endpoint.

The size and nature of the goal is irrelevant in terms of what it means to lead. The goal could be to raise money for a local charity, or get the shop cleaned up before everyone leaves for the day, or to open three new manufacturing facilities overseas. Leadership is not about the goal per se, but without a goal, without a desired outcome, there is no need for leadership.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Leadership is the use of social influence to inspire peak performance in others as they work to reach a goal. It’s not about your title or where your name sits on an org chart; anyone at any level can lead.

So, how does someone become a great leader? How can you increase your social influence? What about communication, decision-making, and other skills?  Aren’t those important? The answers to these and other questions are coming up in my next post, Great Leaders: Evolution, and some of them may surprise you.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Leadership is the use of social influence to inspire peak performance in others as they work to reach a goal.
  • Social influence is the ability to affect the attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors of a group of people without exerting force or exercising authority. Great leaders have a high level of social influence.
  • Peak performance is putting forth maximum effort in the application of relevant tools, in a manner that results in the most progress possible. Great leaders inspire peak performance through their use of social influence.
  • Peak performance, inspired by social influence, is delivered in pursuit of a goal. A goal is simply a desired outcome: it’s the point at which efforts end. Great leaders use social influence to move people toward that endpoint.

Related: Professional Coaching

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