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The Process of Building Influence

I walk out of the Stillwater Public School Administration Offices excited about the prospect of making money. I thought that maybe with a college diploma, job's would come easily and be quickly followed with a hefty salary. While I wait for the careers and cash to rain down on me, I figure substitute teaching would be a fun way to spend my time.

I receive my first call the very next day. A teacher had a family emergency she had to attend to, so they ask me to come to Will Rogers Elementary in the next hour to fill in for the rest of the day. Excited about the $62 I'd earn from this full day of teaching, I accept without asking any further questions.

I arrive and the secretary lets me in the building. I'm signing in and as she takes the clipboard back she says, "It's not very often that the teacher and both aids have to step out. Pretty brave of you to take this Kindergarten class all by yourself."

"Wait, what?

"Yeah, Mrs. Jones son is sick at the middle school and the other two aids also felt sick today." I'm frozen. It's a mix of fear, nausea, and confusion. She guides me down the hall and before I can protest, run away, or throw up, she leaves me with a piece of paper and cheerfully says, "Here is the list of commands for the class. Good luck!"

As I enter the classroom I am greeted by a wave of tiny hoorahs, woohoos, and "look at my shoes!" Another teacher thanks me for relieving her of her watch and leaves. 25 small children stare back at me expectantly. I stare back at them until one girl raises her hand. "Are you the teacher?" I nod. They nod back.

I follow the lessons plans left for me and utilize the commands to maintain control. I maintain a calm composure, but after about half an hour I begin to panic when one boy starts chasing another one. Then behind me a girl begins to cry because someone broke her crayon. Another loses his shoe. Another throws a shoe. "Hey kids, let's return to our seats. Young man, put your shoes back on." Nothings working.

Before long the little girl who raised her hand at the beginning of class comes up and asks me if I'm okay. Apparently, my composure was gone. Without waiting for an answer she leans in and says, "If you want them to listen you have to use their names."

I laugh. I'd been in the classroom for nearly an hour and didn't know a single name of any of the students. Why would I expect them to listen to me when to them it seems like I don't even care enough to learn their name?

Influence is one of the most written about leadership topics in the world. Yet, we tend to overcomplicate it.

John C. Maxwell tells us that influence begins with a position. I was a teacher and I'd been given a title, and therefor, been given influence. However, our positional influence will only take us so far with people. Sure, the Kindergarteners may listen for a little while, but a title only provides minimal influence if we don't continue to build upon it.

Maxwell tells us the next level of influence is permission. How do we gain someone's permission to influence them? By building relationships. Establishing rapport with the person you're trying to influence will take them from having to follow to you, to wanting to follow to you.

The art of influencing others at a base level comes down to showing them you care. We are more likely to be influenced by those we have a personal relationship with than those we simply know by title.

"Joshua, can you please put your shoes back on?" His head snaps in my direction. He smiles, "You can call me Josh!" and slipped on his sneakers as he continued chasing his friend.

I smiled back. If knowing his name can make that big of a difference, just wait until he knows I found out his parents names.


Show someone within your influence you care about them this week.


What is one title you hold that gives you influence?


"Leadership is influence." - John C. Maxwell

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