Unlocking Your Leadership Puzzle: Celebrate Your Distinctive Role and Create a Powerful Legacy

John Maxwell has been one of the biggest influences on my leadership career. I’m sure if you have followed me for any length of time you have seen me refer to his famous quote, 

“Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

It’s one of the most powerful statements about leadership I can think of! It says so much about leading in just a few words. Leadership is not about control; it is not limited to a position or title; it is not even necessarily about the bottom line. It is simply the ability of one person to impact another.

But in order for us to impact, the other person has to be engaged!

John Maxwell also says,

“If you think you’re leading, but no one is following, then you are only taking a walk.”

I’ve spoken to many young leaders with this problem. They have spent years specializing in a skillset. They become masters of their craft. They are the most productive technician on the team. Then they earn a leadership title and suddenly they feel they are in over their heads. Without people skills, the team they lead cannot succeed – even with all the skill in the world.

This was Peter’s problem.

His team was slipping in their efficiency and he could not figure out why. At his annual performance review, he was blindsided by the report from his team:

“We don’t feel heard or appreciated.”

He was not able to lead his team because he had no influence with them, and he had no influence with them because he had no rapport with them.

The answer? Emotional intelligence.

Leaders cannot lead if they cannot connect. Emotional intelligence helps leaders build bridges to their people – and there is no amount of technical skill that can replace that. John Maxwell sums it up like this:

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

But emotional intelligence is kind of an ambiguous skill. Oxford Languages defines it as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” And leaders can improve their emotional intelligence by…

Listening with empathy.

It goes without saying that emotions are a major part of the human experience. And others’ responses to our emotions play a big part in how we perceive them.

When your team sees that you value what they have to say – not only the words, but the ideas and sentiments behind them – they feel that you value them.

You can open this door by requesting their input. Ask open-ended questions. Invite their feedback. And maybe most importantly, ask them, “How are you doing?” and pay attention to their answer.

Developing your self-awareness.

Unless you and your neighbor own the same car, the two vehicles probably work a little differently from each other. And both cars probably work a little differently from the car that belongs to the couple who lives across the street. But all cars have similar hardware. The more you know about how yours works, the more insight you have about how all cars work.

This is why developing self-awareness also develops your ability to understand others’ emotions. Emotions are complicated. We are often hesitant to analyze them. But when we better understand our feelings and the thoughts and actions that led up to them, we become better able to and more ready to empathize with others.

Mindfulness is a great way to develop self-awareness. Spend a few minutes a day journaling about your significant emotions that day, or devote a moment to quiet reflection and meditation.

Foster a healthy relationship with your emotions.

Emotions are often associated with impulsivity. But when we better understand our own feelings, we can add a space between our thought or feeling and what we do with it. We can acknowledge the feeling, feel it, but separate it from our need to act. This empowers us to be more intentional in our conversations and decision-making, especially when emotions are running high.

Peter was not the first leader who needed to develop his emotional intelligence – nor was it a problem that he could fix overnight. But as with everything, time and effort showed him results. He began to empathize with his team; he valued them, and he knew how to communicate that to them. And the results spoke for themselves.

Rapport turned into a relationship, and a relationship turned Peter into a true leader – influence and all.

That’s all for now,


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