Is Leadership About Inspiration or Influence?

I received a thoughtful response to my latest article from a client:
“You state:  “the true measure of a leader is their capacity to influence.
I do not disagree that successful leadership does include the ability to influence, but is the true measure of a leader in their capacity to influence?  Or is it in their ability to inspire?
Subtle difference but different none the less.  Influence (from my perspective) suggests that you know best what they need to do, and sometimes that is true.  However, if as leaders we inspire our people then through that inspiration we can unlock their ability to create something far greater.”

And my response?

So is it influence or inspiration?  Or is it a combination of the two?
Influence, unfortunately, has taken a bad rap, because we don’t fully understand what leadership is and are working from an outdated model. When it comes from an outdated leadership approach (command and control), then you are correct. As you say, “you know best what they need to do.” In this day and age, you won’t be successful – at least not for long – if this is your view of influence. That is an old way of looking at influence, based on a patriarchal paradigm.

Yes, I agree that inspiration is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Inspiration is the means. Influence is the end. The question arises, “inspire people to what end?”

Influence, in the partnership paradigm, is not unilateral. Yes, you inspire, but you have to influence toward the achievement of some kind of shared vision or result, or you can’t call it leadership. Just because I inspire you doesn’t make me a leader. I am inspired by all kinds of things, but I’m not necessarily influenced by that experience to move toward a result. I can, for example, be inspired by a youtube video, but you can’t call that video leadership unless it in some way influences me to take action toward a focused result that is important to both of us. A true leader might influence with the use of that video. To be a leader, I have to work with you, listen to you, collaborate with you, build trust, etc. (all of which is required to influence you to achieve something that is important to both of us). That is leadership. And maybe I can even get there without inspiration (although I wouldn’t count on it).

I completely agree with you that inspiration can unlock our ability to create something far greater. But what exactly is that something? Leadership requires clarity about where we are going and more importantly why we are going there – even beyond our current imagination – along with deliberate, sustained, and collaborative attention toward that end (influence).

Maybe this is all semantics, and I stand to be corrected.

Let me give you a very concrete example in our relationship right now. First, I am grateful for your inquisitiveness and questions. It inspired me, without doubt. Now, the real challenge is: How will your inspiration influence me to be a better person or achieve a result that is important to both us? What are we going to do as a result of the inspiration? To what end will the inspiration lead us? If the goal is simply to learn, then we call that teaching, not leading. If teaching influences behavior, then teachers become leaders. Only when you answer that will I call you a leader in this context.