Become a More Powerful Leader

If you can learn to lead, you can conquer the world. You can accumulate wealth, amass power, and accomplish your most important goals. Today’s resolution is about becoming an effective leader – but not in the conventional sense (i.e. developing business management skills). I’d like to talk to you about developing personal power.

Think about the most successful people you know. Some of them may have achieved their status in life by the use of certain natural gifts. A singer, poet, or athlete might come to mind. But most successful people get to where they are by practicing a few very mundane skills – skills that anyone can learn and master, given a reasonable amount of time.

Picture this: You invite your boss to lunch, talk to him for 60 minutes about the weather, and then he interrupts the conversation to say, “I really think you deserve a raise. How much do you think I should give you?”

Imagine if you had the ability to subconsciously command anybody to do whatever you wanted. What if you could – without argument, aggression, or hard work – persuade your employees to work harder, your vendors to give you better prices, your customers to pay you more money, and your spouse and children to appreciate what you do for them?

Let’s talk about acquiring that sort of power.

You don’t want to get people to do what you want by bullying them. An effective leader is not someone who haggles and cajoles … or begs and pleads … or uses any sort of force. After all, it’s no great talent to push people into doing something. The only thing that takes is an advantage. A bigger body. A quicker mind. A position of authority. The great thing about great leaders is that they know how to get people they CAN’T bully to follow their lead.

Napoleon, for example, was a powerful leader who was able to run military campaigns that many of his contemporaries thought impossible. Part of his power came from his iron will. But there was no way he could have achieved all he did – getting so many thousands of men to sacrifice so much for him – had he relied strictly on brute force. The Duke of Wellington, who knew Napoleon as well as anyone, said that his strength came from his personality. The mere presence of Napoleon on the battlefield, Wellington said, made his soldiers braver and stronger.

The New Year’s resolution that you’ll be making today is not about acquiring the military status of Napoleon. It’s about developing certain subtle but powerful personal skills that will give you the ability to accomplish what you want in life … be it something as simple as retiring rich or as ambitious as building an empire.

In my new book, Power and Persuasion, I talk about BB, a friend and business partner who has applied the art of leadership to develop a very profitable international publishing company. Here’s what I wrote:

“He’s built a large and successful business largely by getting very smart and talented people to work very hard for him. He isn’t, by conventional standards, an inspiring guy. He doesn’t make heart-stirring speeches or send out motivational memos. In fact, he hardly raises his voice. But what he does do is talk a lot about the quality of good ideas – and he allows his best people plenty of freedom to develop them.”

If you work in an environment where good thinking is valued and the freedom to develop ideas is fostered, you are very likely to feel good about what you do. And if you feel good about what you do, you will work hard and smart.

Here’s another example …

ME, an important direct-mail publisher, is much more hands-on and dogmatic (see Word to the Wise, below) than BB. Yet he gives his people the same thing: the feeling that what they are doing is good and worthwhile. In his case, it is less about creativity and more about quality. ME’s employees feel … and with some justification … that the products they produce are better than most of those they compete against. This kind of feeling can fuel a long and productive career.

BB and ME are two very different people who conduct their day-to-day business activities very differently. Yet they have both achieved success by using the same secret. They both understand the power of purpose.

What is the power of purpose?

I get into this fully in Power and Persuasion (so, if you are interested, please get a copy). But in the interests of brevity, let me put it this way. People work for money. And people work for praise. And people work for comfort and consideration. But if you want people to work harder than they have ever worked, to think harder than they have ever thought, to care more than they ever have, you can’t ask them to do it for any of those reasons. There is only one motivation that will drive men to perform on a superhuman level … and that is the desire to accomplish a worthwhile purpose.

I have written several times about the power of purpose. It is, in my experience, the single most important leadership skill there is. If you can give someone the idea that his life will have more meaning if he follows your ideas, you then have all the power you will ever need over him.

People who have great personal leadership skills never have to browbeat, badger, or bully their way through life. Nor do they have to beg, borrow, or steal. If you can learn how to make other people believe that your ideas have value, everything you want to accomplish will be available to you.

We all want the material comforts of life. But what we want more – and more deeply – is to feel like the life we are leading has some meaning. How did the great leaders of the modern era – Churchill, Roosevelt, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King – get so many people, rich and poor, to devote their time (and in some cases sacrifice their lives) for their causes? It wasn’t their good looks or their elocution on the stage. It was because they knew how to persuade other people to see their ideas as valuable and to believe that if they pursued those ideas their lives would have more meaning.

In Power and Persuasion, I explain how I believe it was done – and I go into detail on everything else I know about personal leadership. For example:

Great leaders discover how to make the work worthwhile and then distill it down to a phrase or philosophy that can easily be communicated to their employees.

Good leaders recognize the importance of practicing all the skills essential to leadership – one of the most important being persuasion.

Great leaders are perceived as powerful communicators because they listen more than they speak. When they do speak, they focus on the interests and concerns of the other person. They’re also able to summarize and clearly present their case.

Strong leaders know how to create strong relationships. They remain personable, friendly, and genuinely interested in other people, regardless of the person’s social or professional position.

Successful leaders present the facts passionately and stress one unifying idea

Successful leaders develop the skills to persuade others in one-on-one situations, in small groups, and in front of larger groups.

editor’s note.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]