Monday, July 26

Interpreting Influence: Intuition Over Infatuation, Part 1

There are dozens of influence measures on the Web. Most of them are reliant on some sort of algorithm. There is the Fast Company measurement disaster. Klout, which suggests Mashable is more influential than the President. TweetLevel, which even places me above him too.

When it comes to understanding influence, social media has certainly taken the wrong turn in understanding it. The continued attempt to make the unimportant look important is preposterous. Influence isn't about people or clicks or retweets or even trust. It's about ideas, actions, and reflections. And there is a new study that supports this observation.

A Study In Collective Leadership.

The study doesn't come from social media. It comes from education. It took six years to complete. It's 338 pages long.

Commissioned by The Wallace Foundation and conducted by the University of Minnesota and University of Toronto, "Learning from Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning" (Hat tip: Genesis) makes this case in a different area of study.

In studying 21 different leadership styles, the researchers discovered that collective leadership by school principals led to improved student performance. Collective leadership is a style that evaluates various stakeholder points of view, and then reflects those ideas back on the people where they came from (sometimes in a refined state that goes beyond what stakeholders imagined).

In other words, people don't follow the "principal" as much as they follow their own "ideas" as refined and retold to them by the principal. Not surprisingly, this is supported by long understood empirical evidence that groups and subgroups yield better results when they have a stake in the direction.

In education, the best performing schools all have principals who observe this leadership style, alone or in concert with other styles. And what this means is that the principal's "influence" has nothing to do with the principal, but the ideas and direction they give back to their audience.

The outcome is better performing students, supported by participating parents and dedicated teachers. And, when you think about it, it might even reveal why private schools tend to perform better than public schools, even though private school teachers are paid less.

What History Teaches Us About Influence.

Apply this thinking to history and you'll find the same conclusions. When leaders first rise to power, it's often on the promise of pushing the ideas of the community to the forefront of the agenda. Unfortunately, however, once many leaders are elected or assume power, they change the paradigm. They trade community ideas in for popularity, authority, or some other agenda.

Good leaders or bad leaders, the story always plays out the same. Stalin rose to power on collective ideas from the community, but then ruled with individual authority that refused to listen anymore. So did Napoleon. So did Hitler. So did many others.

There are some who didn't mistake influence for popularity or authority alone. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, George Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr. all earned respect and influence because they remained committed to the collective ideas of their community. They were influential because it was never about them.

Ergo, people did not march to Washington D.C. for Martin Luther King, Jr. They marched for civil rights and social equality.

Sure, popularity or novelty can sometimes increase the reach of a message. But, at the end of the day, if the most influential person you know tells you to punch yourself in the head ten times, most people wouldn't do it, with rare exception. What exception? The same ones employed by those dark leaders mentioned — the positive or negative use of authority in the form of fear and consequence or praise and reward.

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