Three Characteristics Of An Influential Leader

There’s a simple test you can take to see if you’re a leader: turn around and see if anyone is following you.

People may follow you for all kinds of reasons. I tend to break them into three categories:

They follow you because they have to – you are an authority over them.
They follow you because they need to – you have something they want.
They follow you because they want to – you influence them in a positive way.

photo credit: manufrakass via photopin cc

Influence is a leader’s most valuable currency. When you spend your influence in the right way, it can help you overcome an obstacle and move a group of people toward a certain goal or objective.

I believe a person can increase his or her level of influence. A potential leader can develop a greater influence in the lives of others.

The first and best way to do this is through your example.

People will observe how you lead yourself, the discipline in your own life, and the choices you make. They will watch you in action. Your actions serve as an example to others (hopefully more good than bad).

Consider the type of example you set for others. I’ve observed that the leaders I want to follow possess the following characteristics:

1. Inspirational NOT Menial

The Baltimore Ravens (NFL team) recently lost one of their leaders, Ray Lewis, to a tricep injury. Lewis is one of the most inspirational men I know. He has a way of inspiring others to do their best. Every time you listen to Lewis speak, every time you watch Lewis play, you are inspired to be your best. There is nothing menial (which means lowly and little) about the way Lewis goes about his business.

If you are satisfied with the status quo, you won’t be very inspirational. If you are comfortable with the way things are, you aren’t cut out for leadership. People want to follow leaders who instill hope, who are positive in the midst of setbacks, and who point people toward a better future.

2. Instructional NOT Judgmental

An influential leader needs to possess a skill or something they do well. Then, they must be willing to teach this skill to those around them. I realize it’s not skill alone that makes someone a leader. But capability is necessary – even if it’s the ability to place smarter and brighter people around the table. I’m thinking of my piano teacher in high school. He was incredibly talented. Every time I sat down with him to play a piece of music, he praised what I had accomplished so far and showed me one way I could improve.

One thing my piano teacher never did was judge my level of ability by comparing it to his own. He influenced me to be better…based on what was better for me. I knew he was accomplished, but I never felt belittled in his presence. In fact, he was always telling me what he was learning. I felt fortunate that he was guiding me. In fact, I felt special because he willingly let me look behind the curtain to see what made him so great.

3. Intentional NOT Accidental

I want to follow a leader who knows where he or she is going (and knows where WE should be going). The world is full of people just hoping for an opportunity to show up. I am influenced by the people who have the ability to make opportunity happen. These people are prone toward action. One person who models this aspect brilliantly is my friend, Kevin Eikenberry (you can find out more about Kevin and his work at kevineikenberry.com).

Kevin and his team always have a new project or resource they are working on. They do a fantastic job of communicating to their followers on a consistent basis. Every blog post, every article, and every recommendation is geared toward providing people with practical and useful tools to improve their leadership. The best part is that Kevin isn’t waiting around for someone to tell him to do all of this. He started this whole thing himself (and then brought on some talented people to assist him).

It’s like a parade. There are a lot of people standing on the side of the street…watching. But it’s even more fun to be IN the parade. Leaders who are influential help people get in the parade.

In fact…they create a parade that everyone can be in…


I think the difference between the first part of each characteristic and the second part is a matter of motive. It’s the difference between leading from humility and NOT pride.

The humble leader is better suited to influence others through inspiration, instruction, and intention.

The prideful leader is often afraid of change.
The prideful leader is often afraid to be wrong.
The prideful leader is often afraid to try.

You can increase your influence with those around you. All it requires is for you to be the kind of example that people want to follow. I hope some of these ideas help you with that.

Let me ask: What other characteristics should a leader possess to be or become more “followable?”

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://sharonoday.com Sharon O’Day

    Whatever the characteristics of leadership, it’s something others “feel” before they’re even aware of. It’s not about being loud or obviously strong. It’s about knowing that the influence that is greater than you, that expands naturally beyond you, brings with it power … and responsibility.