“How can I inspire others to follow my lead?” Aspiring influencers have wrestled with this question since the beginning of time, and those who emerged and ultimately became legendary leaders did so because they were willing to learn from the very best.
I asked 11 modern-day leadership experts about the historical figures who expanded their perspective and influenced their practice. The result is this list of game-changing leaders — and a little about the work and philosophy they brought to the world.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Angry activists have never been in short supply, but the greatest leaders don’t just complain.
“I have been inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how he inspired a movement,” optimist and best-selling author Simon Sinek told me. “I have learned that a cause must be organic; if it is to have an impact, it must belong to those who join the movement and not those who lead it.”
In our capacity as leaders, we often think of influence as persuasion. But, when the stakes are high, most of the negotiation process takes place before formal discussions even begin.
In his book Pre-Suasion, best-selling author Robert Cialdini told the story of Kim Man-bok, head of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, who in 2007 was tasked with recovering hostages from the Taliban. Before he could get there, two of the 21 captives were murdered, and two more executions were already scheduled.
“But,” Cialdini said of Kim, “before saying a word to the kidnappers, he changed their thinking. He replaced the head South Korean negotiator with one who spoke fluent Pashtun, winning the hostages’ swift release.”
Later, Kim would explain what it was about his move that made it pre-suasively effective. ‘”As soon as our counterparts saw that our negotiator was speaking their language,” Kim said, “a strong intimacy developed with us; and so the talks then went well.’”
As easy as it can be to blame the media, politics or a Facebook algorithm update for the anxiety in our lives, the fact that we create our own reality still remains.
Executive coach and best-selling author Marshall Goldsmith explained, “When it comes to influence, one aspect of Buddhist philosophy applies in a simple, but powerful way: Buddha believed anyone can change. As it turns out, coaches who believe people can change are much more effective than those who believe people cannot.”
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