You Don’t Have to be in Charge of Anything to Lead

With no disrespect whatsoever to the 7000 other authors/researchers that have offered up a wide variety of alternatives over the years, we would like to begin this blog by revisiting the definition of leadership as provided by our founder, Dr. Paul Hersey:

“Leadership is an attempt to influence.”

And, leaving detailed explanation aside for a moment, we would contend that influence is the common thread you would find in each and every definition of leadership on record. Purely and simply, leaders get people to do things they wouldn’t have done otherwise.

There are some interesting implications that go along with that assertion. Principal among them is that leadership (in and of itself) is not “good” or “bad.” People can be influenced to do things that hurt those around them and produce destruction just as they can be influenced to help those around them and produce meaningful results.

Another dynamic in the “leadership as influence” definition is that leadership is multi-directional. We still tend to think of leadership as something “the people in charge” do to the people that aren’t, but the flow of leadership moves laterally or up just as often as it “rolls downhill.”

And, leadership can get just plain wild when you remove the context of organizational hierarchy and try to keep track of who is influencing who. Take a look at the following case study with that thought in mind:

Let’s take a minute to review what we just observed.

  • The “Players:”
    • Reporters Scott Pelley and Steve Hartman bring us this story. As a side note, we feel confident we speak for just about everyone when we say we wish more stories like this one made their way onto primetime broadcasts
    • Lt. Colonel Frank Daly from the Air National Guard who serves as the somewhat random target of this influence attempt (more on him in just a minute)
    • A mother (Tiffany Eckert) who has a supporting role in this case. We found ourselves reflecting on Tiffany quite a bit in our analysis, and we firmly believe if there is a hall of fame for mothers, her image and story deserve prominent display
    • Our leader, and main character, is an 8-year-old elementary school student named Miles Eckert. We would contend there hasn’t been a more likeable 8-year-old on the airwaves since Opey Taylor (more on Miles coming up as well)
    • And, the impetus for the entire case was the memory of Army Sergeant Andy Eckert. One has to imagine he would be bursting with pride as a father and a husband if he were able to share his thoughts
  • The “Attempt to Influence:”
    • Our leadership moment is really just this simple: Miles finds $20. He then devises a plan that makes no real justifiable short-term sense whatsoever. (Note to reader: This happens a lot when you review the actions and corresponding thought processes of many successful leaders.) Instead of indulging himself (which he admits he considered), he decides to compose a note, include the $20 and recognize the service of a random soldier (“This is your lucky day!”). Consider these words/phrases to describe leadership interventions, in general, and this one in particular:
      • Genuine (“My dad was a soldier”)
      • Intentional (“In our family, we like to pay it forward”)
      • Risky (At Cracker Barrel that day, no way to know how things would turn out)
  • The “Results:”
    • Leaders are typically evaluated on two dimensions:
      • The success they achieve (bottom-line impact)
      • The effectiveness of their attempt to influence (for lack of a better term, how people feel about being influenced)
    • Here’s what we know about the results Miles produced:
      • A Lt. Colonel in the Air National Guard looks at Miles’s note every day (“I have been given a lifetime direction.”). He passed along his $20 and we can infer with confidence that his efforts inspired many “payments forward”
      • This story made it onto the CBS evening news. That in and of itself is no small feat. And, we recognize that TV personalities of this caliber can display a wide range of emotions pretty much on cue. That notwithstanding, watch the clip again, and hear the voices of veteran, prime-time reporters choking up during their interview and close. This absolutely hits us as 100% authentic
      • Beyond the people that saw the story live on the news broadcast, the YouTube link has had over 3.2 million hits. Over 1100 viewers took the time to comment

As we see it, if nothing else, Miles has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that you don’t have to be “in charge” of anything to be one heck of a leader! Thank you Miles, thank you Tammy and thank you Andy!


Channel your “inner Miles” at least once next week! Identify someone you think deserves recognition (could be a direct report, peer, boss, family member or a random encounter). Take a moment to formulate (perhaps even document) your thoughts and present them to the individual in question. Let the following parameters be your guide:

  1. Be genuine – the target of your leadership/influence attempt needs to do something that “strikes a legitimate chord” within you.
  2. Be intentional – let the person know why you are making the effort to provide the recognition.

Evaluate your results based on the following:

  1. How do you feel after taking the risk/making the effort to provide the recognition?
  2. On a scale of 1-10, rate your success (tangible results) and your sense of your effectiveness. (Did your intervention have a positive effect?)