There is a difference between what we can control, and what we can merely influence. Sometimes we get these mixed up and this confusion causes many problems for leaders (and all of us as human beings too). Today, I want to clarify one piece of this mix-up, a piece that starts with us personally, and radiates out to our work as a leader.
Let’s use a topical example to help me make the point.
Question: Can you control who gets elected to any office?
Question: Can you influence who gets elected to any office?
What can you do (or could you have done) to influence the results of an election you care about? First, and most directly, you can vote. Beyond that, you can have more influence by making phone calls, putting a sign in your yard, handing out flyers, assisting the campaign, making a donation, and more. All of these things could have an impact on an election, and none of them guarantees who gets elected.
Influence isn’t a guarantee.
However, because influence isn’t a guarantee, we sometimes get confused.
Question: Will you vote?
Answer: No, it won’t make any difference anyway.
While this may not be your answer, you likely know someone for whom it would be. If the person who chooses not to vote cares about the election and the outcome, but still doesn’t vote because they can’t control the outcome, their lack of action is a problem.
Influence isn’t a guarantee, but the lack of action is a guarantee of no new results.
The Generalized Lesson
Influence isn’t a guarantee, but that doesn’t excuse inaction.
When we don’t act, because we don’t see how it will make any difference, we are operating as a victim; wanting someone else to do something to change our results.
As leaders we must see the world clearly: while action may not change the outcome, inaction clearly won’t.
To make this idea more real, do this exercise right now. Think of a situation in your organization right now that isn’t going as well as you wish it were. Now, ask yourself these questions:
- What actions are you taking to change them?
- If you aren’t taking action, are you wishing for, or waiting for others to do something?
- If you are waiting and wishing, what could you do or say that could influence those actions of others?
However you cut it, the old definition of insanity remains true. Insanity is doing the same things and expecting a new result.
As a leader and as a productive, effective human being, it all comes down to taking action. And the place to start is to look in the mirror.
It all comes down to you. It all comes down to do. And there are no guarantees.
If you want to be a more effective leader, you must recognize the role influence plays in your work. There is little about your work as a leader than you can guarantee (or you have control over). But you do have control over your actions, which may influence others.
And as you begin to live in this world of influence, holding yourself accountable for the role you play (and therefore taking action), you can begin to influence others to do the same.
Imagine a team or organization that is proactive and willing to try new things to improve outcomes. Imagine what that culture would do for productivity, stability, job satisfaction and profitability.
While that may not be a description of your organization today, it could be.
There is no guarantee, but it all starts with you and your influence.