As the director of Leadership Spokane, I am most frequently asked, “What is leadership?” It is an easy question to answer. Leadership is influence, leadership is trust. Author Ken Blanchard says it best: “The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.”
Bozzi Media does a masterful job annually highlighting leaders and influencers in our community. This month’s magazine is no different as they highlight fifty influential leaders. Each of these leaders has one thing in common—they set an example for all of us to follow. Albert Schweitzer reminds us, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”
Spokane’s Power 50 sets the example and in doing so completely changes the leadership dynamic in our region. Instead of saying “Go,” our Power 50 leaders say “Let’s Go!” With the addition of that one word, the essence of their leadership changes from authoritative to collaborative. Both statements propel movement, but the difference is in the method of getting there. It transforms the desired outcome from a command to a unified effort.
Two traits give power to widespread influence. Leaders chose to lead and we trust them. Leadership is a choice—always. Often times, leaders are thrust into roles because of time or position, but position by itself does not equal leadership. Leadership guru Simon Sinek in his article “The Desire to Lead” acknowledges that leaders must be willing to serve, sacrifice, and be accountable. He candidly writes: “So many leaders think they want to lead because of the power, prestige and sometimes money that go with the job. True leadership has nothing to do with those things.”
Leadership is a choice to step up and enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task. Leaders need to take risks and risk failure. They will have to sacrifice time and resources in their accomplishment of the common task. Leaders sacrifice. Leaders also have to be able to take responsibility and be accountable for their actions and the actions of their followers. President Truman summarized this best: “The buck stops here.” Leaders who shun accountability when times are bad lose the faith of their followers. Sacrifice and accountability are choices—so is service. A leader’s final choice is to serve. Sinek writes: “Leadership is not just about leading, it’s about serving. True leaders show up to give and when circumstances require them to give more than they ever thought they would have to, they do so willingly.”
After choosing to lead, leaders elevate their influence by being true and upholding values of good. The essence of a successful leader comes back to one core element . . . trust. William Ayot elegantly makes the case in his poem “The Contract” that we follow the boss “standing up there when the wave hits the rock, passing out faith and confidence like life jackets because of who they are . . . the leader.” A famous example epitomizing trust is that of Marty Maudlin, CEO of Mauldin Industry, who put his trust in his employees when their factory burned down. Faced with huge financial burdens, he refused to lay off any employees and buoyed by his trust, they rebuilt his business making it more profitable than ever. A shining local example is that of Jeff Philipps, CEO of Rosauers Supermarkets, who kept his workforce employed even after one of his supermarkets collapsed under the weight of snow. The store was rebuilt and both the employees and the community rallied behind Philipps because he had trust in his followers and they had trust in him.
In a similar vein, having served in the U.S. military for more than two decades, I have watched with pride as our military continues to commit itself to being the best in the world and protecting our noble nation. The one element that has kept our “soldiers” confident and focused in their task is trust in their leadership and fellow service members that they have their back and will never leave them behind. As a youth, I marveled at true stories of Vietnam where U. S. forces risked countless lives with huge helicopter and air support packages to rescue a single downed American aviator from behind enemy lines. That commitment remains intact today in current conflicts overseas. The U. S. military will never leave a man or woman behind. That ensures trust and builds influence which evolves into leadership.
Ayot illuminates what we expect of leaders: “We give them our trust. We give them our effort. What we ask in return is that they stay true.” This is the essence of influence—lead by first choosing to and then establishing trust. “I have your back,” say these Power 50, Leaders of Influence, so let’s go Spokane!
Col. Brian Newberry, USAF retired is the executive director of Leadership Spokane and former Commander, 92 ARW, Fairchild AFB