Who’s Pulling You?

It's easy to believe a lie without knowing it.

Photo courtesy of Alvin Mahmudov

Photo courtesy of Alvin Mahmudov

Renowned author and speaker, John C. Maxwell defines leadership as influence. A story I heard from my pastor a few months ago illustrates the power of influence.

A man walking down a street noticed that a little boy was trying to reach the front doorbell of one of the homes on the street. The boy jumped repeatedly, as he attempted to reach the bell. He was unsuccessful each time. The man, thinking he could help the boy, crossed the street, walked towards the front porch of the house and pushed the doorbell. He then turned to the boy and asked, “What’s next, little man?” The boy turned to the man and said, “now we run!” and started sprinting down the street.

Whether we realize it or not, we are influenced everyday by what our senses pick up.  We usually don’t think that we’re being influenced at the moment it’s happening, so we give little or no thought to it. But countless examples abound that show that many of us are easily influenced, either by what goes on around us or by the company we keep. Often, we give in to the urge that comes with that influence. We naturally react to the stimuli all around us. And this can be found in all areas of life: from road rage, to eating what you had not planned on eating.

I was driving home one evening when the sweet aroma of chicken floated into my nostrils. Almost immediately, I felt the pangs of hunger. Then I remembered that my wife had warned that dinner may be a little late. In less than a minute, I was in one of the drive through lanes of the Chick-fil-A restaurant around the corner. I never planned on this stop-over, but the smell was too much for me to resist.

Oftentimes a group exerts a level of influence that’s difficult to shake. Studies have shown that many of us will do something as part of a group, which we won’t do when alone. Mob mentality could come into play.

In The Abilene Paradox, Robert Whipple wrote that “the mentality to go along to get along is alive and well in any group of people today”. Someone suggests an idea and everyone goes along with it because each one thinks that’s what everybody wants. No one wants to be the odd man out. No one wants to rock the boat. When this happens, valuable resources are spent to go down the road no one really wanted to go before everyone realizes it. Just imagine how much would have been saved if someone had said something!

We normally do not realize this, but each of us can choose our response once we are aware of what’s going on. So, the first step is to always be on high alert about the fact that we can easily be influenced and sometimes deceived by what our senses pick up.

This is not as easy as it sounds, but with a little practice, we can become better at it. When I hear something not so complimentary about someone I don’t know quite well, my natural response will be to add my two cents in agreement. Whether or not it’s true is not the issue here. The problem is that I've just been pulled in, to believe something about another person that I really don’t know. More often than not, the information is presented from the perspective of the person giving it, who may be seeing the subject through lenses that’s not very clear.

Leaders are especially susceptible to this because they receive unsolicited comments and feedback from people that surround them. As we continue to grow in our leadership journey, it behooves us to weigh every influence that comes our way so we don’t end up believing a lie.

Instead of allowing myself to be pulled in, I can do a double take, think about what I've just experienced as a potential influence on me and push back. I can push back by giving the person the benefit of the doubt. This also is not easy.

I was in a meeting recently where the other participants started talking about another person in a derogatory manner, making fun of his peculiar preferences. I knew this wasn't right, so what did I do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing!

I was outnumbered, and didn't have the courage to speak up for the absent. I simply walked out. While I wasn't influenced by what was going on, I could have taken the next right step. I could have said something that expressed a diversity of opinion, instead of keeping quiet.

Just as I gave in to the urge to grab a quick meal at Chick-fil-A, what stimulus are you responding to?

Are you even aware that you’re being pulled in? The smell of fried chicken did me in; what's pulling you? Who are you allowing to influence you? And the keyword here is allow, because you can choose to not give in to the urge.

You can choose to push back.