Leading with influence
How to make stress work for you so that you can influentially lead your team.
Being a visionary leader takes more than having good ideas that meet market demand and the financing strategy to make it happen. About ten years ago, I worked for a community bank and I was lucky to have timed it to serve under an exceptional CEO, who invested heavily in leadership development. I remember being shocked by the leadership training’s key takeaways, that most of the core leadership skills executives needed were really quite basic: it takes exceptional communication and conflict resolution skills. As an attorney, I knew that these skills were important, as attorneys typically make their money when folks do this poorly, but I was surprised by two in particular: positivity and vision.
Positivity and vision are very hard skills to develop if leaders are stressed and distracted by daily tasks. My clients often find these two leadership traits to be the hardest to master, so today, I am going to break them down a bit for you all.
Positivity is about knowing how to create a positive relationship to stress. Haven’t you ever heard of that old bluegrass song, Keep on the Sunnyside? No? Okay, then I encourage you to stop reading, listen to the song, and then come back to this post. Back to the topic of stress, I recently had the opportunity to hear my favorite thought leader on the topic of stress at a local event. Kelly McGonigal, PhD has been a trailblazer in this space, with her very popular TED talk where she encourages us to transform our relationship to stress by honoring the ways stress encourages our body to have physical reactions that can help motivate us to act. Which is an amazing way to think about it. But, my favorite part of Kelly’s talk is about how stress releases the hormone, oxytocin, which helps us strengthen relationships. Stress is absolutely a part of our lives, and there is nothing wrong with it. It is our relationship to stress that causes us trouble, not the stress itself.
TIP: Take a moment to consider the ways you let stress rule your day. Do you say “I am so stressed” often, or that you are “always busy”? Consider what it would be to drop those statements from your daily practice. What would you say instead? How do you think it would affect your team if you replaced this language with something more positive, such as “We have a full day today team, and I so appreciate all of the ways you are showing up to pitch in.”?
Vision is about speaking to a future that is greater than us, using language that creates a feeling of belonging and commitment. For owners and leaders of companies this is an important factor for employee retention, as well as customer satisfaction, because most people feel like they want to be part of something that is greater than themself. For some leaders, this is a natural impulse. But for most, it is helpful to break this down into its many parts. While many books have been written extensively on this, including the very popular, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, I recently came across this much shorter article by Bryan Clark in the New York Times, on what makes people charismatic, which breaks down charisma into three basic pillars.
Presence. Reside in the moment. When you are with others, do you give them your full attention? Take a moment to collect yourself each and every time you are in the presence of others. This pillar is all about decluttering your mind so you can show up for the people who are counting on you.
Power. Many leaders have a complicated relationship with power. My philosophy on leadership is that this power starts from within. Having personal core values and a statement of purpose for your own life can be a touchstone for some of the challenging dynamics of growing as a professional. The more certain you are of your personal convictions, the more influential you can be, and the more you will see who are the people who support your leadership power, and who do not. For those leaders who are plagued with imposter syndrome, this pillar is especially important.
Warmth. This is a difficult one to learn, because it must be authentic. To develop this pillar of charisma, I highly recommend that you consider how empathetic you are to the experiences and perspectives of those on your team or in your communities of influence. How relatable are their stories? If you cannot relate, go deeper into your own personal inquiry as to why you cannot relate to their stories. If you can get to that point, then warmth may ultimately be a lovely outcome of that process. Olivia Fox Cabane, in her book, The Charisma Myth, goes even further into how you can actually develop techniques that change your body chemistry to elicit this emotion.
Leading with influence is all about developing the leadership traits of positivity and vision. And, to be truly forward thinking as leaders, this needs to be followed up with meaningful action. Then, your team and community will not only feel inspired and connected to your leadership, they will trust you to be the one that can also deliver.
Supporting our clients’ leadership traits is one way we help our clients lead their companies as forward thinking business leaders. For more information on our services, please feel free to check out our Services page, or see more posts and tools on our Resources page.
 Note for our readers: The Savior makes an appearance in this song, as is common is many traditional bluegrass songs. If this is an issue for you, I encourage to you to replace Savior with your preferred term.
 McGonigal, Kelly, How to Make Stress Your Friend, TED Talk 2013.
 Clark, Bryan What Makes People Charismatic, and How You Can Be, Too. New York Times. August 15, 2019