31 Aug Inspire, Influence and Lead: the Hidden Power of Onions
Onions are one of my favourite metaphors for understanding oneself and one’s capacity to grow, as described in a recent article about personal and business success. How could we expand this metaphor to unpeel how understanding ourselves correlates with our ability to inspire, influence and motivate others?
First up I’m going to cast doubt on what is often stated as a ‘must’ for leaders – the ability to motivate others. Strictly speaking this isn’t true. If we go by the common definition of the verb to motivate – ‘to cause someone to have interest in, or enthusiasm for, something’, I don’t believe that is possible. We can certainly create the right conditions in which it is more likely that a person or persons will feel stirred to act or agree with us, but the motivation has always to come from the person themselves.
So how do we produce that kind of magnetism that enables people to feel both comfortable enough to listen to us, and certain enough to decide, that what we do and say is credible?
Peeling the onion
For me it is all about being comfortable enough in your own skin to know your value. Just like onions, we are multi-layered. There is the outer observable layer – how we behave, how we communicate and what we do. Often we feel tempted to buff up this outer skin and make it really shiny in order to feel confident and protect what’s really going on deeper down. But it’s deeper down where the treasure often lies.
Our inner layers can contain clues as to the beliefs we are holding onto that may or not be helpful, our dearly held values which – if given breathing space – could provide the drive we seek, and crucial information about when we are in our most productive states of flow. We can also begin to understand how, what we might believe are limitations, may in fact be some of our best assets.
Just as dicing an onion can cause us to cry, so can peeling and cutting into the metaphorical onion of ourselves. However, done carefully, and with self-love, the process can be nothing short of miraculous and can leave us in a position where we know and own our value, and as importantly, can spot the value in those around us, no matter how tough their outer layers are. The closer we get to this point, where we know where we make a difference and do not feel the need to be an expert in all areas, the easier it will be for us for others to lead effectively, if we so wish.
Inspire and influence
A colleague of mine recently contested my use of the word ‘influence’ with reference to leadership, preferring the alternative ‘inspire.’ Influence, which is defined as ‘having an effect on the character, development or behaviour of someone or something’ is, I would say different to motivation. It’s less direct and leaves more room for the person being affected to make a choice. The origin of the word is telling. It is from the Latin influere, ‘into’ + ‘to flow’, and implies more imperceptible or indirect action triggering change.
The real power is, I believe, in the concept of inspiration. To inspire comes from the Latin inspirare to breathe or blow into and is defined as the ability to ‘fill someone with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.’ When we stand tall and at ease in our value, it is much easier to breathe confidence into others.
Of course sometimes the situation will not allow us the luxury of waiting for willing followers. When the building is on fire or the onions are burning in the pan you will need to take command in everyone’s interest. But this should be the exception, not the rule. Practice the ‘flow’ and the ‘breath’ and the emergencies are less likely to occur.
Questions to take you further
- How comfortable are you in your own skin? Do you own and articulate your value, and project credibility?
- What might you find if you cut into your onion?
- What aromas might be generated from going deep, and how could they help you inspire your team and colleagues?
I’ll leave you with a very poignant quote from John Quincy Adams: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
© Move Ahead Global 2016