The relationship between leadership and influence

What is the relationship between leadership and influence? Leadership is always influence and influence is always leadership?

Saying that leadership always involves influence is like saying that all snow is white. True, but the inference doesn’t work the other way around. That is, not all white things are snow. Similarly, while all leadership is influence, there are many kinds of influence that don’t count as leadership. Here are some examples:

– Intimidate or force someone to do something.
– Bribe someone to do your bidding.
– Pay for things you want someone to do for you.
– Teach a student to behave better in a classroom.

The last two examples are not leadership because they have nothing to do with a group striving for a goal. Teaching students and encouraging children to eat vegetables is in their own best interest, not for the good of a larger group. Similarly, salespeople can be very influential, but their influence is selfish. The seller and the customer do not constitute a group.

Formal authority and leadership influence

Suppose you are the boss and decide to increase production by 50%, which requires everyone to work faster and longer hours without overtime. Is this leadership? No, it may be influence but it is not leadership because the employees had no choice. To say that leadership is an informal influence means that followers have a free choice to follow or not.

What are some prime examples of true leadership influence? One of the best known is the demonstrations by Martin Luther King against segregation on buses that led the Supreme Court of the United States to ban this practice. King had no formal authority or other power to move the United States government. This is the true meaning of leadership.

Another example of genuine leadership influence was the Sony employee who influenced management to adopt his PlayStation idea even though they felt Sony didn’t like making toys.

Every time you convince your colleagues or your boss to adopt a new idea, you have shown them leadership. Or, he can simply set a good example for others, and if they follow him, he will have shown leadership.

Market leading companies influence their competitors to change course, another example of real leadership.

When executives make decisions that take their teams in new directions, they are taking managerial action, NOT showing leadership because employees have no choice.

To count as leadership, the influence must be informal and the followers must come on board entirely of their own volition. Leadership is also a group phenomenon and is directed to fulfill some selfless purpose, something to improve the effectiveness of the group.

For this reason, even if your children willingly follow your request to eat vegetables, you have not shown leadership because you and your children are not a group working toward a common goal.

Informal leadership and influence

We often distinguish between formal and informal leadership. The only difference between these concepts is that the informal leader takes charge informally. The formal leader has been given formal authority to govern the group, while the informal leader is given this role by the group itself. The informal leader has personal power: charisma, knowledge, or some form of experience that the group values.

It is vital to recognize that the conventional understanding of informal leadership is not the same as saying that all leadership influence is informal. The conventional concept, formal or informal, has to do with being in charge of the group. The claim being made here is that real leadership is independent of position, as it was in the case of Martin Luther King. He was not an informal leader in the conventional sense: the Supreme Court did not recognize him as its informal leader. As another example, a technical geek might influence his peers to adopt a new piece of software. He has informally influenced them. However, this geek might be so unwilling to manage the group that they may never see you as their informal leader, someone they would look to for help organizing their daily work, someone they would look to for advice and problem solving. . conflict. The geek’s informal leadership is a one-time act, not an ongoing role. His influence is informal, but he is not what we normally call an informal leader because he has no interest or ability to take charge of the group in an administrative sense.

So what? By reformulating the meaning of leadership, I am saying that the old distinction between formal and informal leadership is outdated. In reality, there is only formal and informal management because all leadership is informal, where this term refers to willingly following someone’s example, NOT informally taking charge of the group.


Leadership influence involves a group changing direction due to someone’s informal influence. You are always selfless because if you influence people to support you by appealing to their needs, you are effectively operating as a salesperson, not as a leader. True leadership asks people to put aside their personal needs and do something for the good of the group. Think again of Martin Luther King. He was campaigning for justice, not to be elected president of the United States. His leadership involved personal sacrifice in the interest of a higher cause.

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