“Never underestimate the power of influence.  There are two parts to influence: first, influence is powerful, and second, influence is subtle.”Jim Rohn

One of the really cool things I get to do these days is share with others thoughts on leadership.  I love what I do.  And in all honesty, my knowledge bank is probably really just the tip of the iceberg.  There are shelves and shelves of leadership books in your local bookstore and in the library.  There are hundreds of leadership podcasts for anyone who cares to listen.  The material is out there.  But what I have is even better.

You see, the best leadership material I have ever captured was not through those methods.  For me, it has always been watching others I respect and doing what they do.  In fact, this method works in so many aspects of our lives.  When I speak in front of an audience, my delivery is a hodge-podge of several styles of outstanding speakers I have watched and listened to over the years.  If I were to read that list to you, you would most likely say, “Yes, I do see a bit of that person in you.”  When I parent my kids, I am doing my very best (most of the time, anyway) to steal and copy the styles I have found to be outstanding in other parents I have observed.  After all, success leaves clues.  Imitation truly is the purest form of flattery.

When it comes to leadership in my own life, my biggest source of influence was Gerry.  Now, I have had the privilege of learning from dozens of excellent leaders over the decades, but Gerry caught me at just the right season in my life.  I was in my mid to late 20’s, a quickly rising supervisor in a 400,000 square foot distribution facility.  The facility was brand new and cutting edge at the time for the company I worked for, so they decided to bring in a brand new and cutting edge operations team to match.  My new boss – you guessed it – was Gerry.

Now, there are times in life where you know you are in the midst of life-altering events, and there are other times where you have absolutely no clue.  Moments that fall within the second group generally come back to you years, maybe decades later, followed by an “I had no idea” recollection.  See, that’s the most underestimated thing about influence – its subtlety.  We are all influencing others and being influenced by those we choose to allow within our “circle”, but the realization can be lost at the time if we are unaware that this power truly exists.  It was the same way with Gerry.  At the time, I thought I was just going to work, trying my best to perform well, and working towards being the guy that stood out for the next promotion.  Looking back since, I now know that I was being carved, sanded, and polished into a leader with skills that I would go on to use and improve upon for decades.

One night recently, I stopped to consider all the valuable lessons on leadership and success that I had learned from working with Gerry twice over an 8-year time period.   The list is extensive, but here are the principles that have influenced my style and career the most over the years:

1.   People learn most effectively by doing, not by watching.

Now, we might as well get this out into the open.  I am NOT a Mac guy.  I’m a PC, through and through.  I can find my way around a Mac, but it’s just not the same to me.  I’m out of my element.  But Gerry – he’s a Mac guy.  He was then, and I bet he still is today.  So when he needed to teach us something on the computer, from printing reports to building a spreadsheet or whatever, we did it in his office, on his Mac.  When it came time for my turn, without fail, Gerry got out of his chair and said, “Here.  You drive.”  He then made me sit in his chair, as he walked me through the steps verbally as I performed the actions. I’ll never forget one summer when my family was at Gerry’s house for a barbeque.  In the midst of dozens of other adults, Gerry was manning the grill alongside my all-too-curious boys, Josh and Kylle.  In an instant, he handed over the tongs and spatulas to the boys (who couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old at the time) and said, “Here.  You drive.  Don’t let anything burn.”, and then walked away to mingle with his other guests.  You see, Gerry realized that we would learn so much more quickly by doing, than by standing over his shoulder and watching.  Yes, might seem a bit obvious to some, but so many leaders today miss this opportunity.  They feel rushed and under the gun, and their “Here – let me show you” instinct kick in.  Throughout the years, I’ve been able to fight off those instincts, largely due to being shown by Gerry how to teach others.

“Leadership is influence.” - John C. Maxwell

2.   Successful people are intentional about continuous learning.

Everything on this list is huge for me, but this one truth may have impacted me more than any other.  There were five of us who directly reported to Gerry in our supervisory roles.  One of the things he would regularly do is bring in a book for us to read.  Every couple of months or so, he would bring in something off the bestseller list that he had just finished, and we were encouraged to each take the book home one at a time and read it.  Now, this was in the mid-to-late 1990’s, so we’re talking books like Don Shula’s Everyone’s A Coach or Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese.  Whatever the title, you were guaranteed that it was circulated based on it having something to do with achieving success or winning.

The interesting thing was that Gerry never forced any of us to read the books.  It didn’t influence our annual evaluations and reading a book didn’t automatically earn you a raise.  I remember one of my fellow supervisors sharing with me on the side, “I’m not talking a book home and reading it on my time, when I’m not getting paid to do it.”  When those kind of comments filtered back to Gerry, he just sort of shrugged his shoulders in an “oh well” manner.  You see, he understood that in order to win in business and in life, you could never stop learning.  You have to continually feed your mind with knowledge if you truly want to be the best in your field.  I wish I could tell you that I mastered this habit right then and there during my season with Gerry, but it wasn’t until years later that I finally entered a mature enough state to realize how crucial this principle is to success.  Today I read at least one non-fiction book a month, usually two.  They may range in topic from social media to parenting to spirituality to leadership to communication, but the steady flow never stops coming.  I also keep a certain supply of books available to give away – books that have helped me to be a more effective parent, or manage money more wisely, or to be a better listener.  When you come to one of our seminars, the most commonly given away raffle prize is – you guessed it – books.  This is all due in part to the seed of influence that was planted by Gerry some time ago.

“Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do; leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.” – Steve Jobs

3.   We all own the responsibility for the outcome of our decisions.

This was a tough principle to learn at the time, but it’s one that is extremely rewarding to write about today.  Other than annual performance evaluations, Gerry and I only had two one-on-one closed-door meetings in the entire four years or so that we worked together.  Both meetings centered around behaviors of mine in the workplace that needed changing.  During a certain season of my life, I opted to move to a new residence, one that took my then 10-minute commute and turned it into an 80-minute commute in each direction.  Now, business in our distribution center started promptly at 7:00am in the morning, and I had the responsibility of handing out work to about 20 direct reports of my own when they arrived.  As you can imagine, I had no issues getting to work at 6:45am to prepare when I was only 10 minutes away.  Driving in from 100 miles out was a bit more challenging, and there were several days where I barely made it on time.  When Gerry sat me down behind closed doors to discuss expectations, I unknowingly expected him to understand my commute struggles and even possibly provide scheduling alternatives.  But instead, what he said to me was much more substantial than that.

“Dale, I can’t control where you choose to live.  All I can control is the expectation that your job requires you to be here promptly at 6:45 to hand out work – period.”

Wow.  That simple sentence was life changing for me.  You see, in that moment I learned that I was free to live wherever I wanted, to do whatever I wanted, but the expectations at my workplace were not going to change.  6:45am was still 6:45am – no alterations, no excuses.  This was the seed that started the beginnings of a true sense of personal accountability in me; that through my own actions and decisions I was ultimately responsible for my outcomes.  Not my surroundings, or my environment, or my excuses – just me.  As a leader myself over the years, I have borrowed Gerry’s phrase over and over again, steering delicate conversations with those simple words, “John, I can’t control the fact that you…” (fill in the blank).

4.   Learn to recognize talent and surround yourself with it whenever possible.

When Gerry and the rest of the management team joined our facility, the natural changes that tend to take place in a situation like that began to occur.  Over time some other supervisors moved on to other opportunities elsewhere.  When that happened, I don’t really remember Gerry hiring any strangers from the outside.  There was the occasional internal promotion, but what usually happened was someone would join our team that used to work with Gerry elsewhere.  He would simply make a call, see if the person was available and interested in joining us, and then bring them in.  It was that simple.  He chose the known commodity over the unknown risk, every time.  And in every case, these men and women that joined our team brought tremendous value and made the entire group as a whole much, much better.

I mentioned earlier that I had the opportunity to work alongside Gerry twice.  After a couple of years in our original distribution facility, Gerry moved on to a greater career opportunity elsewhere.  I eventually received a promotion and managed a facility of my own, but also moved on over time as better career opportunities presented themselves.  About three years after we had parted ways, I received a call from Gerry.  He was working for a major third-party logistics provider, and was putting together a crew of engineers who could design distribution centers, configure the supporting systems, and travel to the sites to provide training and start-up support.  He wanted to know if I was interested in a new challenge.  You see, Gerry was just doing what he had always done – keeping in touch with talent and bringing them onto his team when the fit was right.  I had never done this degree of support before, but Gerry knew from our first experience together that I could get the job done.

I was “in” – no questions asked.  I met with the hiring team, agreed to a position, and was on my first flight to Seattle the very next day to jump in with both feet.  I held that position for four years, well beyond the time that Gerry moved from our team to take another position within the company.  To this day my four years of designing, travelling, and teaching in that particular role has been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling positions I have ever held.  Even better, I have learned over the years to recognize wonderful talent within my own inner circle, and have had the honor of bringing many wonderful men and women over to join teams that I have led.  This has provided a tremendous leadership advantage, as those very gifted people accepted a new challenge and continued to produce outstanding results.

“You don’t have to be a ‘person of influence’ to be influential. The most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they taught me.” – Scott Adams

So, where is Gerry today?  It’s been close to twenty years since Gerry and I first worked together, and he is still rolling along and making a difference.  Currently a Director for a major global supply chain provider, Gerry is still on an airplane more often than not, much like when we worked together.  We keep in touch on Facebook, where many of his posts center around cycling – still to this day his major passion.  He has no idea that he would be the subject of this article, other than a brief comment I sent him to let him know that I would be “mentioning him” in some writing I was doing.  You see, if I had shared with him the details of this writing, my guess is that he would shrug off most of it as “no big deal”.  He would see it as just doing what any good leader would do.

That’s what brings me back to my original starting point.  I was originally going to call this article, “Leadership – Gerry Style”.  But in the end, I didn’t really learn leadership training from Gerry.  Instead, I learned the power of influence.  For close to twenty years I have stolen, borrowed, duplicated and replicated the most excellent of traits and styles that I learned at the time from my mentor.  And the best part – it was so under the radar that it happened more often than not without me even realizing it.  That’s the power of influence.  In turn, I have the honor to continue that legacy, and to never forget the huge responsibility that comes with the ability to influence.

So, thank you Gerry.  Your legacy will continue on with me, and then most likely again with others.  And to my readers, two questions:  first, who comes to mind for you when you think of influence in this way, and second, what are you doing today to influence those around you?  Leave your comments and tell us!