The relationship between leadership and influence

What is the relationship between leadership and influence? Is leadership always influence and influence is always leadership?

To say that leadership always implies influence is like saying that all snow is white. It’s true, but the inference doesn’t work the other way around. That is, not all white things are snow. Similarly, although all leadership is influence, there are many types of influence that do not count as leadership. Here are some examples:

– Intimidate or force someone to do something.

– Bribe someone to carry out your orders.

– Pay for the things you want someone to do for you.

– Teach a student to behave better in the classroom.

– Encourage your children to eat their vegetables.

The last two examples are not leadership because they have nothing to do with a group striving for a goal. Teaching students and encouraging children to eat vegetables is in their own interest, not for the sake of a larger group. Similarly, salespeople can be highly influential, but their influence is in their own interest. The seller and the customer are not a group.

Formal authority and the influence of leadership

Suppose you are the boss and decide to increase production by 50%, which requires everyone to work faster and longer hours without overtime. Is this leadership? No, it may be influence, but not leadership because the employees had no other choice. Saying that leadership is an informal influence means that followers have the freedom to choose whether or not to follow.

What are some of the top examples of true leadership influence? One of the best known is the Martin Luther King demonstrations against segregation on buses that led the United States Supreme Court to ban this practice. King had no formal authority or other power to move the United States government. This is the true meaning of leadership.

Another example of genuine leadership influence was the Sony employee who swayed management into embracing his PlayStation idea despite their feeling that Sony was not into toymaking.

Whenever you convince your colleagues or your boss to adopt a new idea, you have shown them leadership. Or you can simply set a good example for others and, if they follow you, you have demonstrated leadership.

Market-leading companies influence their competitors to change course, another example of real leadership.

When executives make decisions that take their teams in new directions, they are taking managerial action, NOT showing leadership because employees have no other choice.

To count as leadership, influence must be informal and followers must participate fully of their own free will. Leadership is also a group phenomenon and aims to fulfill a selfless purpose, something to improve the effectiveness of the group.

For this reason, even if your children willingly obey your request to eat your vegetables, you have not shown leadership because you and your children are not a group working toward a common goal.

Informal leadership and influence

We often distinguish between formal and informal leadership. The only difference between these concepts is that the informal leader takes charge informally. The formal leader has been given formal authority to govern the group, while the informal leader is given this role by the same group. The informal leader has personal power: charisma, knowledge, or some form of experience that the group values.

It is vital to recognize that the conventional concept of informal leadership is not the same as saying that all leadership influence is informal. The conventional concept, formal or informal, is about being in charge of the group. The claim made here is that actual leadership is independent of position, as it was in the case of Martin Luther King. He was not an informal leader in the conventional sense: the Supreme Court did not recognize him as their informal leader. As another example, a tech savvy might influence colleagues to adopt a new piece of software. It has influenced them informally. However, this geek might be so reluctant to manage the group that they would never see him as their informal leader, someone they would turn to for help organizing their day-to-day work, to whom they would turn for advice and problem solving. conflict. Informal geek leadership is a one-time act, not an ongoing role. His influence is informal, but he is not what we normally call an informal leader because he has no interest or ability to take charge of the group in an administrative sense.

And that? In reframing the meaning of leadership, I am saying that the old distinction between formal and informal leadership is out of date. In reality, there is only formal and informal management because all leadership is informal, where this term refers to voluntarily following someone’s example and NOT informally taking charge of the group.


Leadership influence implies that a group changes direction due to someone’s informal influence. You are always selfless because if you influence people to support you by appealing to their needs, you are effectively operating as a salesperson, not as a leader. True leadership asks people to put aside their personal needs and do something for the good of the group. Think back to Martin Luther King. He was campaigning for justice, not for being elected president of the United States. His leadership involved personal sacrifice for a higher cause.

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