A former student came to me and expressed gratitude. He told of a presentation I once made. It was about positive leadership. Toward the end he raised his hand and asked what he could do to become a positive leader. I responded with a question: “Are you better person today than you were yesterday?”
He said that the question has never left him. He ponders it continually. He wanted me to know that he was thankful for the gift I gave him.
I do not remember that exchange or uttering those words but as he recounted the story I was elevated. My response to him really does answer the question how to become a positive leader.
In the research on positive leadership is a measurable variable called “idealized influence.” People of idealized influence are deeply trusted and attractive because they are seen as inherently good, virtuous, selfless. They pursue the common good rather than their personal good.
Yet, being good, virtuous, and selfless is not a steady state. There is not a line we cross and then become permanently perfected. The only way to be in the state of idealized influence is to continually progress, to be better today than we were yesterday.
If we are better, more virtuous, and less selfish than we were yesterday, we are more likely to engage in acts of positive leadership. Those acts may succeed or fail. Yet if we remain in our elevated state, we will learn how to adapt our actions and move toward success. A person who is not in the state of idealized influence does not engage in the same kinds of acts and does not have the same learning opportunities. A key to becoming a positive leader is to be better today than we were yesterday.
I am delighted to know that my former student always has that question in mind. It was a gift. I am glad he returned it to me so I could share it here.
- Who is the most positive leader you have ever met?
- In pondering that leader, what do you learn about idealized influence?
- Why is idealized influence a dynamic rather than a fixed state?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?