During a conversation with one of my clients, I learned that he doesn’t want to influence others. Asked for his reasoning he shared that he associated using his influence with manipulation.
In such situations, it is useful to share and discuss each other’s definitions. It is what allows us to reflect on the way we seek to interact with others. And in this case also how individuals step into their leadership roles.
According to the Cambridge dictionary, a definition of influence is “the power to have an effect on people or things” another is “to affect or change how someone or something develops, behaves, or thinks.”
As such the definition is neutral and independent from manipulating others.
However, when someone uses his influence to his advantage things start to shift. Then it is not clear anymore to what end one is using one’s influence. Going deeper onto that path, influence becomes manipulation when material information is misrepresented or withheld and when people are motivated to act against their best interests.
The definition highlights how a human being always seeks to influence. It can be as little details as smiling at someone and hoping that the smile will be reciprocated. It can be a parent that sets out to educate their children. Or, it can be people learning to know one another and seeking to deepen the relationship.
A leader, just like a parent, must influence. To achieve a vision and complete a task, a leader needs followers. To have followers means to be willing to influence people.
But he must also be clear about his distinction between influencing others and manipulating them. He must be able to have a shared understanding with others of how his influence is there to support their best interest. And his team needs to be able to question his influence. If they are not able to do so, there is a high risk of ongoing manipulation.
The irony of not wanting to influence others is that it is opening the door to manipulate them. It means that there either is no shared leadership vision or no awareness of the existing influence.