Influence – A Compelling Force


In John Maxwell’s book, “Developing the Leader Within You,” he defines leadership simply as influence. John writes, “Leadership is influence. That’s it. Nothing more; nothing less.” While influence is at the core of understanding leadership, it is important to dig deeper into what we influence and how we influence in order to gain followers.

Influence is defined as “the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, feelings, etc., of others” (

This definition points out that there are three things that can be influenced: thoughts, feelings, and actions. Thoughts are what we think. Feelings are the emotional response to the source of influence. Actions are the behaviors that are demonstrated.

The “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” is a great example of a viral influence that swept across the nation that affected people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. People were dumping ice on their heads and challenging others to do the same thing in an effort to raise money and bring awareness to ALS.

On August 29, 2014, the ALS Association reported, “Today, The ALS Association has topped $100 million in donations from people all over the globe who were moved to action by this summer’s Ice Bucket Challenge. As of August 29, the Association has received $100.9 million in donations compared to $2.8 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 29).”

There are two words that stand out in the definition of influence; compelling force. What is interesting about a compelling force is that it can be either a force that inspires or coerces. Think about this on a continuum.



If a person responds out of inspiration, he or she is moved to action out of a sense of purpose, core values, being responsible, greater meaning, or utilization of strengths. The Ice Bucket Challenge was a compelling force of positive influence that inspired people to take action.


If a person responds out of coercion, he or she is acting out of fear, dread, or manipulation. Generally there is a powerful consequence connected to the coercive behavior of the “leader” that moves a person (follower) to take action. For example, a manager may use the formal process of “writing up” an employee for poor performance. If the poor performance does not change, the consequence is termination. The employee often times responds out of fear of losing his or her job. Again, the compelling force must be viewed on a continuum. We are well aware of much stronger coercive tactics that are used to get people to comply; such as threats, verbal abusive, and punishment.


Finally, it is fairly obvious to see that the use of tactics that inspire lead to higher engagement, and tactics that coerce lead to lower engagement. Thus, if we as leaders desire to draw in followers that are fully engaged in the vision and goals, we have to be very aware of the tactics of influence we are deploying. If we are using coerces behaviors, we will have short term, disengaged, and apathetic followers; if they can be called followers at all. If we are using inspiring behaviors, we will have fully engaged and committed followers.


Take a close look at the leadership tactics that you are using this month. Are you using coercive behaviors or inspiring behaviors?


Maxwell, John, “Developing the Leader Within You,” 1993