Leadership 101: Influence requires investment

Influence requires investment. If you had to define leadership in one word, what better could you find than influence? Leaders effect change because leaders influence. Leaders achieve goals because leaders influence. Leaders are only leaders to the extent they influence.

I remember bits of a sermon an evangelist passing through our little west Texas town preached when I was about 11 or 12. This preacher was from Tennessee and he whistled his "s" sounds. We called him the Tennessee Whistler.

Get off your can!

The part I remember is the quote he used to drive home his main point. The quote is of unknown origin, but it goes like this: "Get all you can. Can all you get. Sit on the can."


Get all you can. Can all you get. Sit on the can.


I can still hear the boom in the whistlin' preacher's voice, like an Appalachian thunderclap, "That's not right! That's wrong! That's not the way to anything useful. That's not the way to wealth. Investment is the way to wealth. Just so, it's not the way to influence, either. If you want your life to matter, get off your can and take off the lid. Pour yourself into something. Pour yourself into someone!"


"If you want your life to matter, get off your can and take off the lid. Pour yourself into something. Pour yourself into someone!"


I am thankful that among the indelible impressions stamped upon my soul in my formative years, was this one from a traveling preacher, whom I heard speak five times in a week and never saw again.

Time passed and I would find myself in various leadership roles, charged with casting a vision and achieving an end. I learned quickly that I could achieve nothing of real, lasting, or far-reaching value by myself. I could not make a difference by being too introspective.

The unexamined life doesn't much matter.

I could learn, but what was the point of learning if I could not teach? I could gain wisdom, but hoarded wisdom is its own brand of foolishness. Socrates, during his trial in which he was accused of corrupting the minds of youth is reputed to have said, "The unexamined life is not worth living."


"The unexamined life is not worth living."


Think about it. If a person lives only for himself and then goes the way of the world, who will remember – or care – that he ever lived at all? One's influence is the only way to impact the world beyond one's own reach.

A leader is only as great as his influence.

Bill Parcells is widely regarded as one of the great coaches in NFL history. Other coaches have enjoyed longer careers, won more games, and even won more championships than Parcells, who coached four NFL teams over an 18-year career. Parcells coached in three Super Bowls (with two different teams), winning two.

The greatest thing about Parcells is not his winning percentage or championship runs, but his football acumen and ability to teach the game to players and coaches. To see his true greatness, you have to look at his influence.

parcells-treeESPN did a series on the Greatest Coaches in NFL History. Parcells is included and special attention is paid to the "Bill Parcells Coaching Tree." Among those directly influenced by Parcells are Bill Belichick (six Super Bowl appearances and three wins as head coach in New England), Tom Coughlin (two Super Bowl wins as head coach with the New York Giants), Sean Peyton (Coached the New Orleans Saints to their only Super Bowl win), Chris Palmer, Al Groh, Romeo Crennel, Tony Sparano, and Todd Haley. Indirectly, Parcells influenced such notables as Nick Saban, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, Jim Fassell, and Bobby Petrino.

One could show even more impressively credentialed coaching trees by tracing those of Vince Lombardi or Tom Landry.

But I will leave the ranks of football for the grander stage of influence upon mankind as a whole. Whom would you say has had the greatest historical impact on the world? In 1926, James Allen Frances wrote One Solitary Life in an effort to answer that question:

He was born in an obscure village The child of a peasant woman He grew up in another obscure village Where he worked in a carpenter shop Until he was thirty when public opinion turned against him

He never wrote a book He never held an office He never went to college He never visited a big city He never travelled more than two hundred miles From the place where he was born He did none of the things Usually associated with greatness He had no credentials but himself

He was only thirty three

His friends ran away One of them denied him He was turned over to his enemies And went through the mockery of a trial He was nailed to a cross between two thieves While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing The only property he had on earth

When he was dead He was laid in a borrowed grave Through the pity of a friend

Nineteen centuries have come and gone And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race And the leader of mankind's progress All the armies that have ever marched All the navies that have ever sailed All the parliaments that have ever sat All the kings that ever reigned put together Have not affected the life of mankind on earth As powerfully as that one solitary life

Love Him, hate Him, deny Him, follow Him, revere Him, revile Him...each of these choices have been made through the centuries since the Galilean walked the dusty roads of Palestine.

The one thing it is impossible to do? Ignore Him.

Why? Because of His influence! And what was His strategy for influencing so many for so long? Investment!

...Jesus went up on a mountain and called out the ones he wanted to go with him. And they came to him. Then he appointed twelve of them and called them his apostles. They were to accompany him, and he would send them out to preach... Mark 3:14

Want to change the world? Want to make a lasting difference? Share your wisdom. Invest yourself in those who comprise your circle of influence. Get off your can. Take off the lid. Pour yourself into others. That's investment, which becomes influence, which is another word for leadership.