The definition of leadership that I like most is by Peter Drucker who says, ” Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to a higher sight, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of their personality beyond its normal limitations.”  Two important things jump out at me.  First, his definition focuses on people (super important, but a lesson for another time).  Second, it focuses on changing those people ie. lifting visions, raising performance, building personalities.  So at some level if leaders are to lead in this manner they have to be able to influence people to change.

A leader cannot directly or forcibly change anyone, but a leader does have influence.  This is like parents influencing their children to make good choices.  The power to make a decision still rests with the child, but the lens through which he/she views the decision has been shaped by the parents.  One of the best ways to influence followers is to establish the right environment.  Peer pressure, which can be positive or negative, is a great example of environmental influence.  John Maxwell outlines 10 tips for a successful growth environment (which is good for both a leader and his/her followers):

  1. Others are ahead of me.  I’m not the head of the class.  I have the opportunity to learn from those who are better than me.
  2. I am continually challenged.  I must study, learn and practice to master the tasks ahead of me.
  3. My focus is forward, not backward.  Yesterday is a history lesson, tomorrow is where the potential is.
  4. The atmosphere is affirming.  People believe in me and my cause and they encourage me.
  5. I am out of my comfort zone but not out of my gift zone.  It isn’t easy what I am trying to achieve.
  6. I wake up excited.  I can hardly wait for the day to begin.
  7. Failure is not my enemy.  Understood correctly, failure can be one of my best friends.
  8. Other people around me are growing.  I am not the only one who is learning and growing.
  9. People desire change.  They want to learn, change and become better.
  10. Growth is modeled and growth is expected. I can see it around me and I am expected to grow

Check out John Maxwell’s video about personal growth environments:

Put someone in the environment described above and their vision would be raised, their performance would be improved, and their personality would be built almost by osmosis from the people and activities around them!  The outcome and the process would be much better than if a leader tried to shove some change down the person’s throat.  Friends can make up one of the most influential environments.  Last week, Bethany posted about the amazing influence that her friends had on her.  Take a look at the environments that you spend the most time in, and the people that you spend the most time around.  Are they serving you the way that you want them to?  If not, what’s your first step to change?

Another powerful lesson in changing people is preventive maintenance.  Milton Jones says, “It’s easier to build children than to repair men.”  If a high vision, improved performance, and great personality can be established in a person before they develop bad habits there will be no need for change!  It is easier to build people right the first time, than to change them once they have gone astray.  As a leader, plan your training effectively, do not make decisions that you could not live with for a lifetime, and intimately know the needs, wants, and dreams of your followers.  A little preventive maintenance can go a long way to making change and building influence in the future.

So can you change someone?  Short answer: no, but you can influence them.  In the end, take a lesson from Nike’s playbook and “Just Do It.”  Elbert Hubbard says, “The man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.”