At TPW we define a productive woman as one who orders her life in such a way as to maximize her positive impact in the world. How does that play out in everyday life? What can we do to expand our influence and make a positive difference in the world around us?
Using your influence and making a difference
For many of us, making a life that matters includes making a difference in the world. That can take many forms, such as leading a country, leading a company, running a household and raising kids to be happy and productive citizens, or publishing content that puts an important message out into the world.
Making a difference generally means having some sort of influence, whether on a small scale or a global one. What does it mean to wield influence, and how we can increase ours so that as part of making a life that matters we can make a difference for the people around us?
What is influence?
As usual, I started by consulting the dictionary to find the definition of the word “influence.” It is defined as “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something.” A synonym of influence is “have an impact on.”
Another definition that caught my attention is “the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen.” There is a difference between influence and authority, in that if you have authority you can force change. You can “make” someone do something to some extent or have the power to require something to happen, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
Why do we care about having influence?
For me, having influence is about making a long-term difference in the world. I want to make the world we live in better, and you probably do too. If we have children, we want better for them than we’ve had. Some level of influence is necessary to effectuate positive change and make that long-term positive difference.
What kind of influence do you want to have?
Presumably, you want to have a positive influence on the people, circumstances, and events around you. Daniel Decker reminds us that not all influence is good:
“influence can go two ways. It can be positive or it can be negative. It can be self serving and manipulative or it can be liberating and uplifting.”
I think it’s safe to say that we want to have that “liberating and uplifting” influence Decker refers to. We humans are relational creatures and “wired for connection,” as Brene Brown has said. Thus, we all influence the people, surroundings, circumstances, events, and organizations we’re part of. The question is are we being intentional about that? Are we ensuring that the influence we wield is positive, liberating, and uplifting?
Where do we want to have influence?
- At work
- In the larger world (politically or socially)
- With our children
- With other people we care about
- The people we know or meet in person
Ways to expand your influence
Having a positive influence is part of making a life that matters. When I’m gone, I want to have made a positive difference. So what are some ways we can expand our influence?
- Show you care
People are more willing to be influenced in a positive way by someone who they believe has their best interests at heart. We demonstrate that by how we interact with them:
- Listen – Everybody wants to be heard. we think to influence others we need to talk more, but the most influential people are the best listeners
- Express appreciation
- Be curious
- “Be Authentic and Transparent – Don’t put on a show. Be real. Be honest. Trust is built that way and trust amplifies influence.” (from “14 Ways to Expand Your Influence“)
- Practice Empathy -Take the time to understand the feelings of others. What motivates them? What do they care about? They won’t care about you and your ideas unless you care about them in return. But here’s the deal… it must be genuine. You really have to care. People are more important than numbers.” (from “14 Ways to Expand Your Influence“)
- Give without expectation of reciprocation
- Walk the walk
Our actions speak louder than our words; we can wield more (and more lasting) influence by showing with our lives the truth of whatever message we’d like to convey. Sometimes our actions may demonstrate the opposite of the words coming out of our mouths. Other times people won’t hear us when we talk, but they will see what we do and that demonstrates the truth of what it is we want to convey.
This is especially important when raising kids. More than they listen to what we say, they watch us for cues on how to live in the world. So show your kids the value of service by letting them see you serve, or of education by letting them watch you continue to learn and grow as a person. If you want them to live a healthy lifestyle, letting them see you make healthy choices will be much more effective than telling them what they should do.
The same goes for your co-workers. Influence the culture at your job by acting like you wish everybody would act.
- Find your voice
When I say voice, I’m talking about two things.
First, the platform (for lack of a better term). By this I mean where and how would you like to have an influence? What are you passionate about?
You can’t change everything in the world. You can’t make an impact everywhere. You need to find the place where you are uniquely suited to make a difference. Think about what you want to say, how you want to say it, and where you want to say it. Be very purposeful about it.
Second, the approach. What is your unique perspective that may help others? How can you best give it voice?
This component or expression of your voice is affected by your background – the experiences and environment you’ve grown up with inform your perspective and the reasons why you care about a certain issue.
It’s also very much affected by your personality. How you give voice to your passions and priorities will be a function of your personality type. For example, maybe you want to give speeches or teach a class or influence groups of people. Or maybe you feel more comfortable interacting with and making a difference for people one on one. Neither one is better than the other; find the approach that feels authentic for you.
Many of us hold back from taking action–even stifle our voice–because we fear being judged or misunderstood or somehow making a fool of ourselves. But if we are motivated enough, we can overcome that fear and find our voice–and really make a difference for someone.
The question, then, is this: What will it take for your desire to make a difference to override your fear of speaking up?
- Focus your efforts
Know where your gifts and passions intersect with a need. (I think it’s important that this be a need actually felt by the other person or group you want to influence, not necessarily what you think the need should be.)
Watch for opportunities. Be aware of people in need, of receptivity in others, and of places you can be a positive influence by your words and/or your actions. Maybe now is your time to make a difference in your community on a large scale by running for office. But there are opportunities every day to influence people and situations in a positive way, and small things can make a huge difference. Simply make eye contact and smile with your server at a restaurant or the person at the grocery store checkout line. Give a kind word to the harried customer service representative.
In preparing for this week’s episode I kept thinking of the quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Although this quote is attributed to Gandhi, at least one article I read says he never actually said it. However, he did say:
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
Here, Gandhi is telling us that “personal and social transformation go hand in hand. . .” (from an article on Quora). We can and should exercise our influence to change other people, but the best place to start is within ourselves. If each one of us works on being the best version of ourselves, the world will change.
- Improve your skills, including your ability to communicate
To make the most of the opportunities to come our way, and to feel more confident in doing so, we need to prepare. Improving our skills–especially our communication skills–will help us be more effective when those opportunities arise, and thus will extend our influence.
Which skills you need to work on depends on what you want to accomplish. But some examples . . .
- Speaking (Toastmasters; public speaking course)
- Writing – take a writing course; find a writing coach; find a critique partner
- Find someone who’s influential in an area that matters to you. Work with and learn from them. Watch them and adapt it to your unique style.
6. Expand your reach
Exercising our influence in our immediate surroundings is valuable and worthwhile. But maybe you’d like to make a difference in a wider arena. If you are passionate about a topic or a cause or a particular group of people, find ways to reach more people with the message that matters to you.
- Start a blog
- Start a podcast
- Start a YouTube channel
- Offer to teach a class online or in person, at your church or local community center, at work
- Volunteer for a local organization that does work that’s meaningful to you
Be the best you possible
Ultimately, we wield the most positive influence when we are the best possible version of ourselves, and live life in front of others as that person. When each of us becomes the change we’d like to see in the world, then one person at a time, the world becomes a better place.
What do you think?
Resources and Links
- “14 Ways to Expand Your Influence”
- Did Gandhi really say “Be the change you want to see in the world”?
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