Who has had the greatest positive impact on your life?

Take a minute to think about the question, and arrive at an answer.

What is it about the person that fostered such significant impact?

I worked through this exercise with a small group of other leaders earlier this week. We collectively recognized a diverse array of family members, friends, and mentors. Still, our answers to the second question were most interesting. As we discussed adjectives and superlatives to qualify the significance of each individual, a handful popped up repeatedly: Consistency. Intentionality. Faithfulness. Integrity.

We realized that the character of each person named was positively related to the impact we felt in our lives.

Leadership is Influence

One thing that’s become increasingly apparent in recent years is that real leadership is influence. Nothing more. Nothing less. We often think of leadership in terms of position, but this is actually the lowest level of leadership. We only follow positional leaders because we have to.

For example, does your boss’s influence over your life extend beyond your job description?

Probably not.

But there are people who we allow to influence our lives because we respect them and appreciate what they represent. We listen to these people, value their opinions, and allow them to affect our thinking. These roles are often reserved for people who have spent years investing in other people’s lives or growing organizations.

Perhaps a member of your ‘Personal Board of Directors’ comes to mind. Or, some other well regarded figure in your community.

What’s this mean for us?

Knowing that leadership is influence positions us to be better leaders and live with greater impact. However, it follows that we also have to understand the concept of influence.

Influence is ‘Personal’ Culture

Max De Pree conceptualizes leadership influence nicely: Leaders create culture; Culture creates outcome. Perhaps Gandhi was thinking along similar lines when he exhorted us to be the change we wish to see in the world?

“Leaders create culture; Culture creates outcome.”

– Max De Pree, World War II Veteran, CEO, Author

In any case, think of the ‘culture’ you create as the spirit you bring into any given situation. What attitude does your presence – your personal ‘culture’ – foster in others? What mood you tend to bring into the room?

Most of us have never understood influence as ‘personal’ culture, so we’ve never really considered these questions. But it’s extremely important to wrestle with them honestly because we each unavoidably impact other people, no matter what our age, life situation, or professional position.

The only real question is how!

Do you bring a spirit of peace and positivity into the room?

Does your presence neutralize pressure and rejuvenate your co-workers?

Or, do you generally contribute to the anxiety of those around you?

Note that the choice is yours.

You decide what kind of an impact you have on others. What’s more, if we want to live lives of impact and significance, our personal ‘culture’ is incredibly important! It will determine how people respond to us, how much they value us, and whether they want to help us…

In other words, it will indirectly determine many of the most important outcomes in our lives, and how we contribute to the most important outcomes in other people’s lives, as well.

Therefore, it’s critical that we each be intentional in developing our ‘personal’ culture. 

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”

– Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States

Shaping Your ‘Personal’ Culture

When it comes down to it, your character determines your ‘personal’ culture, and therefore the impact you have on other people. As mega church pastor, author, and speaker Andy Stanley insists, “Your character shapes the experience of those who journey with you.” The most significant difference between a good leader and a bad leader is character!

We each bring our ‘personal’ culture with us wherever we go because it’s indivisible from our individual character. Our character directly determines the kind of influence we’re having on others, so we have to address character to address ‘personal’ culture.

If someone could be a fly on the wall in your life for a week, what would they think of your character?

What are your strengths?

What are your weaknesses?

If you’re like me, some weeks I cringe at the thought of answering that question!

That’s why it’s such a powerful ‘gut check.’

It’s also why we need a way to evaluate our character to ensure that our ‘personal’ culture fosters the type of positive influence we want.

The first step is mindfulness. 

In that same leadership meeting I just mentioned, we discussed a guest speaker who has made and lost millions, loved and lost marriages, and generally lived a remarkable life: Through the ups and downs of tremendous successes and tragic failures, this man has learned many lessons the hard way. Now, at the end of at all, he says character is everything – the one overarching factor that ultimately determines a person’s temporal destiny. 

That’s a powerful statement!

Thankfully, he applies a very simple litmus test to check the development of his character: He meditates on a short passage of scripture every morning. I offer it for your consideration:

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

– Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)

Each morning he prays that these characteristics will define his life. I think that’s a fantastic habit for anyone to adopt, and so I have.

I hope you will too.

There’s no question that our character will determine the dynamic of our influence in each and every area of our lives. Therefore, it effectively determines our destiny. The first step toward making sure our influence in the lives of other people is positive is to be mindful of the fruit displayed in our own lives.

Let’s do what we can to ensure that the experience of those who journey with us is positive and encouraging!

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