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What Makes a Leader—Part 3

This three-column series discusses the six competencies that good leaders must possess. This column will focus on Influence and Belief in Others.

John Berra
John Berra

This three-column series discusses the six competencies that good leaders must possess—Vision, Passion, Integrity, Action, Influence, and Belief in Others. Vision and Passion were covered in June, and Integrity and Action were covered in August. This column will focus on Influence and Belief in Others.

Influence is the most important and least understood competency. It is not politics or connections. It is the ability to motivate and energize others. Influence means getting people’s hearts before you get their minds. People must believe in you or they won’t follow you. A great historic example of the power of influence is Winston Churchill.  Listen to his “Finest Hour” speech. He asks his audience to project into the future and visualize how they will feel when they look back on themselves. Will we look back with regret on missed opportunities and half-hearted efforts or in joy at knowing that this was our finest hour? There is no more powerful motivator than anticipating how sweet success will feel.

In the automation world, one of the most challenging leadership positions is project manager. Project managers must lead suppliers, contractors and employees, few of which actually report directly to them. In my career, I got to know a wonderful example of project management through influence. Jack Brinly was the project manager for the BP Secco project in China. Jack led JV partners, 10 engineering, procurement and construction contractors (EPCs) and countless suppliers. He completed the project in a record 22 months from bare ground to a running 900-ton-per-year ethylene plant. Jack’s quiet strength and strong influence got all participants to think about how good it would feel to be part of a record-setting project.

Belief in Others may seem obvious, but many leaders fail because they don’t stand behind the team. Leaders do not take all the credit for success; they also don’t run for cover when there’s trouble. The team must know that you believe in them and are on their side. Good leaders seize every opportunity to develop people. Praise the good things. This belief should not be blind, however. There are those who will not step up to challenges and it is equally important to be honest with them.  Carry your wounded (because they gave every effort), but don’t carry your stragglers.

Leaders as role models

Influence and Belief in Others go hand in hand. Think about the people who believed in you and were profoundly influential in your life.  It could be a relative, a teacher, or a friend. This is leadership at its essence. My personal hero is my high school math teacher. Joe Schulte was an amazing man who taught math and also was the drama director.  I wanted to be like him. He believed in me and encouraged me. To this day, I think about him and smile. I’m sure there is someone like that in your life.  Good leaders are role models for the next wave of leaders.

I hope you have enjoyed this series on leadership. Here is a short summary of the six competencies. Vision: See around the corner, detect patterns, and paint a picture of what the destination looks like. Passion: Show commitment, be determined, repeat the message as often as possible, show the courage of your convictions. Integrity: Earn trust, hold yourself to the same standards you expect from others. Action: Make decisions, drive out uncertainty. Influence: Get their hearts before their minds. Belief in Others: Develop people, be an influence in their lives.

John Berra,, recently retired as Chairman of Emerson Process Management.

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