Influencers are change-agents. They are individuals who are able to help people see things differently and provide the encouragement and support for them to change, to improve, to get better. The pioneer of our contemporary field of leadership development, Warren Bennis states, “The basis of leadership is the capacity of the leader to change the mindset, the framework of the other person.”
Most in the masses on the one side of the line are actually quite satisfied with how things are. Or, they may be unsatisfied but unwilling to do anything about it. They just go about living one day after the next thinking that their life condition is the way it was supposed to be and they just need to accept it.
Once we’ve crossed to the other side, we don’t have this luxury of accepting the status quo. We no longer can sit around, complain and hope that someone hears us. No, we’ve now taken on the commitment to not only be dissatisfied, but to do something about it. I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not informed.” Influencers are people on the other side who get informed, become outraged and use their influence to create change in themselves, the people around them and the organizations to which they belong.
AN EXAMPLE OF COURAGE
One of my favorite examples of this comes from a rather short and somewhat reserved woman from Tuskegee, Alabama. Around the turn of the 20th century, many southern states had adopted new constitutions, which were filled with what became known as Jim Crow laws. These laws, among other things, imposed segregation in public facilities, retail stores and public transportation. For Rosa Parks the Jim Crow laws, and the injustice enforced by such laws, were just plain outright unfair.
Rosa’s outrage began when she was a young school girl attending elementary school in Pine Level, an underfunded all-black school. Rosa recalls watching full buses of white students heading off to their new school, while she and her classmates walked to Pine, as school bus transportation was not available in any form for black children.
“I’d see the bus pass every day...but to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world.”
Having joined into the Civil Rights Movement in 1943, it wasn’t until around 6:00 pm on December 1, 1955 when this forty-one year old woman decided to take a firm stand. She had seen and experienced too much. For too long she had stood by as blacks in her home state were treated as second class citizens, and having just attended the mass for Emmitt Till three days prior, her resolution to do something was high.
Boarding a General Motors bus driven by the same driver who once forced her to get off and then leaving her to stand in the rain, Rosa sat just behind the ten reserved seats for white passengers. The bus began to fill up and when the driver noticed that three or four white passengers were standing, he stopped the bus and approached four african-americans sitting behind the reserved rows. He then asked the four passengers to get up and move to further back on the bus. Rosa recounts, “When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night.” At that moment, Rosa crossed to the other side. She refused to get up, was arrested, and fueled one of the largest boycotts America has ever seen. Thanks to her courage, her willingness to not be OK with the status quo, our nation changed for the better.
INFLUENCING FOR IMPACT
While our history books are filled with pages detailing story after story of leaders who gained the courage and used their influence to make a big difference in our country, you might not see yourself as this type of leader. It might be hard for you at this point to really understand the sort of influence that one person can have on a society, and that is perfectly fine. In fact, I believe that the greatest examples of leadership through influence are not the ones that school children will study in their history class. Rather, they are the simple everyday interactions that we have with others.
It was my first year as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. I was taking a required class entitled The Principalship. I had been teaching for a few years, had a couple of kids and had enrolled in a masters program to become a principal. Although I’ve always been a go-getter type of a person, life had started to wear me down and I had taken a “just get through it” attitude, especially when it came to my college classes. The professor of this class had noticed, and asked me to stay after class one day. I was curious, as I was doing OK in the class, had not had any issues and, I thought, flying under the radar just fine.
What she did that day transformed my life. It literally put me on a different trajectory, one which would make a major difference in the lives of many. Interestingly, what she did was not revolutionary, it was mentioned in exactly zero newspapers and, if asked, she may not even be able to recall the situation. She simply saw a young aspiring principal who was not using his full potential. She had the belief in him that if he really applied himself, he could really make a difference. She had become outraged in her own way at the talent that was lying dormant, talent that she knew would continue to go unused without some sort of a trigger, without a catalyst.
On this day, she pulled me aside and said something to the effect, “Jason, I enjoy having you in class. I’m grateful that you’ve chosen to get your administrative degree. But I’m not that happy. I don’t think your putting in your whole effort, and this makes me upset. I see something in you. I can tell that one day you're going to do great things, but if you just sit here as a bump on a log its not going to happen. Jason, wake up and try to see what you can actually become.” And then she walked away. That day I became a better aspiring principal. I became a better teacher. I became a better father, a better husband, a better church member. Why might she not remember this at all while it had such a huge impact on me? Because this was woman who has lived on the other side for a long time. She has made being uncomfortable with the norm a habit, one which she acted on each and every day. She truly was a leader through using her influence.
Jason Hunt is a speaker and trainer who develops outstanding teams and leadership who use their influence to make a big impact on those they work with and the organization they work for. This post is an excerpt from an upcoming book The Other Side: Five Rules for Leading People, authored by Jason.