I was invited to meet with a group of young professionals in medicine. They wanted to discuss how to become change agents. I started with two questions. I first asked them each to define the word leader. They responded that it was someone who can stimulate people to feel, think, see and do things in a new way.
Next, I asked them to differentiate between a novice, an expert, and a master. One person said a novice is someone who is just learning. An expert is a person who learns to effectively lead his or her own organization or group. A master is a person who takes the principles of leadership and generalizes them in such a way that that can effectively lead any organization or group.
The answer exceeded my expectation. I love the notion of a generalized theory of leadership that allows a person to effectively inspire change in any situation. Two illustrations come to mind. The first was a world leader. The second is relatively unknown public school teacher.
I have paid much attention to the life of Gandhi. There is a movie about his life that I like a great deal. It well illustrates his development from novice to master. At the start of his career Gandhi was awkward in his attempts to influence. Yet he continually reflected on his experiences, tried new experiments and grew into a master. At the end of his life he was able to enter nearly any situation and stimulate people to feel, think, see and do things in a new way. He had a generalized set of action principles that he could use in any situation.
The public school teacher was someone I had met personally, a woman who struggled to get her credentials and who took years to learn how to excel, eventually becoming highly effective in the classroom. Referring to her experience as an undergraduate in an education school, she had told me, you learn the “rules” of teaching. Then you go to your first class and you learn that every child is different, that each one has a unique set of needs that you have to learn how to work with each unique child.
“Then,” she said, surprising me, “you go to the next level.” Fascinated, I asked her what that was. She said that she eventually learned that every child was the same. No matter what a child says or does, every child wants to be respected, every child wants to succeed, and so on. No matter what the superficial signals suggest, they all have the same set of intrinsic needs. She told me that once she discovered they are all the same, she could effectively teach any group, old or young, gifted or special education.
This woman, like Gandhi, reflected continually on her experiences, tried new experiments and kept growing. She went from a novice at empathy to an expert who could understand and attend to the needs of each child. Operating as an expert she kept growing until she made a profound discovery. She learned to scale empathy. She learned to empathize with the whole. Now she is a master of influence. In any situation she can identify the collective needs of the group and focus her influence efforts on those needs. She can therefore teach/lead anybody anywhere. She is a master change agent.
I delight in the fact that she is a public school teacher and not a CEO or a world leader. She has a job that tends to be depreciated. Professionals in pursuit of power would not think of going to the local public school to find a master of leadership. Yet she illustrates an important fact, master change agents emerge in every profession and context. As people pay the steep price for acquiring the positive perspective, they become more and more masterful. Eventually they gain a theory of influence that allows them to inspire positive change in any situation. If we look for them we can choose to learn from them and we can accelerate our own efforts to become masters of positive influence.
What is the steep price that has to be paid to become a master of positive influence?
Who do I know who has paid the price and what can I learn from that person?
How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?