Leading vs. Influencing: Unraveling the Distinctions

Apr 12, 2024By Jonathan Bonanno
Jonathan Bonanno

When it comes to leadership and influence, many people often use these terms interchangeably. However, there are distinct differences between leading and influencing that are important to understand in order to effectively navigate relationships and situations.

Defining Leading and Influencing

Leading involves guiding and directing a group of individuals towards a common goal or vision. Leaders typically have authority and are responsible for making decisions that impact the group as a whole.

Influencing, on the other hand, is the ability to affect the thoughts, behaviors, and actions of others without necessarily having formal authority or a leadership title.

Authority vs. Persuasion

One key distinction between leading and influencing lies in the source of power. Leaders often derive their power from their formal position within an organization or group, giving them the authority to make decisions and enforce policies.

Influencers, on the other hand, rely on persuasion, charisma, and the ability to build relationships to sway others towards a particular course of action.

Long-Term Impact vs. Immediate Results

Leadership tends to focus on long-term goals and sustainable change within an organization. Leaders prioritize building a strong foundation and developing a vision that will guide the group towards success over time.

Influencers, on the other hand, may be more focused on achieving immediate results or sparking short-term changes in behavior or attitudes.

Formal vs. Informal Influence

Leadership is often associated with formal roles and titles within an organization, such as a manager, director, or CEO. These individuals have designated responsibilities and are expected to lead based on their position.

Influence, however, can be wielded by anyone, regardless of their title or position. Informal influencers may emerge within a group based on their expertise, communication skills, or ability to inspire others.

Collaboration and Team Dynamics

Leadership is often characterized by a hierarchical structure where decisions flow from the top down. Leaders are responsible for setting goals, assigning tasks, and monitoring progress within the organization.

Influencers may take on a more collaborative approach, working alongside others to inspire change and foster a sense of teamwork and cooperation.

Adaptability and Flexibility

Leadership roles often come with a set of expectations and responsibilities that can be more rigid and structured. Leaders are expected to provide direction and make decisions based on the organization's goals and objectives.

Influencers, on the other hand, may have more flexibility in their approach, adapting their strategies and tactics based on the needs and preferences of the individuals they are trying to influence.

Combining Leadership and Influence

While leading and influencing have distinct characteristics, the most effective leaders often possess strong influencing skills as well. When we start combining the ability to lead with the power to influence, individuals can inspire and motivate others to achieve shared goals and objectives.

Understanding the differences between leading and influencing can help individuals leverage both approaches strategically to navigate complex relationships and drive positive change within their organizations.