“Leadership is influence.” ~ John C. Maxwell
“Wanna go with me? Are you sure you can be in the car by 6am?” I didn’t want to go alone. What was the point? It wouldn’t be much fun without some company. Plus, I needed a witness.
We watched the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve and I wondered if we’d actually be able and willing to make it to the beach six and a half hours later.. At 4am I was second-guessing the plan. But at 5:30 I went to get my son (who, by the way hadn’t gone to bed yet) and asked if he was still sure about taking the plunge.
“Yeah, why? Are you backing out?” he grinned. That’s what I’d asked one of my daughters 30 minutes earlier on the phone. ” I’m too warm,” she’d replied half asleep. “I’m not going.” She’s so much fun and I was bummed that I wouldn’t have her there to laugh with me.
Where did I stand? I was committed. But when we pulled into the ice-packed, snow-driven parking lot of the beach I started getting nervous. When our friend arrived and got in our car and the three of us waited for the sun to come up I figured it was a real possibility that my heart could stop when I hit the water, so I told them who was to speak at my memorial. I never decided where I wanted my ashes spread.
After stripping down to bathing suits in the car we stepped out into the cold, barefoot and pumped with adrenalin. My son raced ahead of me and stopped short.
“I’m not going in!” he yelled through the wind.
I’d managed to get him to the water but not into the drink! I was laughing, screaming, and name-calling all the way into the frigid ocean. And he didn’t budge. I couldn’t believe it. For years he’d enjoyed the Polar Plunge tradition. But not this time.
As I warmed up in the car (not really- the heat wasn’t working) I caught him staring at the ocean.
“You have to go in you know,” I stated as I watched him.
“Yeah, I’m thinking about it.” And without warning he shot out of the car and down the stairs to the beach and into the water with me screaming, “Wait!” all the way to the shore where I tripped and fell in up to my neck.
Hours later, on a beach a few miles away from that one, my daughter called to say that she was taking the plunge all by her lonesome. I was so impressed.
What did I learn that you already know?
That you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink?
I knew that one.
That screaming (joyfully, I might add), name-calling (in jest, of course), and pushing never work?
I think I knew that one, too.
What hit me the hardest and always has is that I really want to influence people to do important things and it’s terribly disheartening when I fail.
But…huge but…I learned that leaders do what they want to do, invite people to join in, move forward regardless of the follow, and share their deepest joy. That’s how we influence. By being and then doing. Regardless.
I learned that influence comes from the inside of me and is a power that others can feel when it’s genuine. It doesn’t depend on agreement.
It’s just the sharing of a seed, a thought, an idea that takes root in another person and grows at its own pace.
But when a good dose of patience is added, miracles happen.
And that’s because the seed was good.