By Cathy Jameson, PhD

“Leadership is influence.” John Maxwell

Most definitions of leadership include the word, “influence”. Leaders have the opportunity and the responsibility of influencing those whom they lead—hopefully, in a positive and constructive manner.

The dictionary defines influence in the following manner “a power indirectly or intangibly affecting a person or course of events,”; “to cause a change in the character, thought, or action of; “to have an effect upon.”

Influence indicates that a person has the ability to impact another person and their behavior. This influence can make a difference in the other person’s performance and the related outcome. Influence can be positive or negative, but it always involves both relationships and results.

I have seen both positive and negative influence in dental practices. I have seen the productive benefit of a person who is positive; who believes in the possibility of getting something accomplished; who thinks people CAN DO………whatever it takes.

And I have seen the opposite. People who are negative and who don’t think anything can happen; that nothing will ever change; and that all things are impossible. This sour attitude and negative demeanor saps the very life out of other team members, doctors—and, in my opinion (and research data backs this up), this negative energy transfers to patients.

A true leader will go to the source of negativity and try to find out what is causing this and, if possible, try to resolve the issue. If this is not possible, then this negative force must be removed. Nothing will deplete the energy from a practice and nothing will cause more stress than negativity. Life is too short and too valuable to waste. Be a leader of yourself, your team, and your patients. Influence others by being positive, optimistic, and energetic. Why not?


Harvard Business Review says that “You can influence without being a leader, and you can lead without influencing, but you can’t be a good leader without influencing.”

Here are some connections and yet some distinctions between leadership and influence.

  • Leadership is visible while influence may not be.
  • Leadership is usually conscious but influence may be unconscious.
  • Leadership is seen every day in every act within the organization. Influence goes on every day but may not be overtly evident.
  • Leadership inspires the company culture; influence propels the company culture.
  • Leadership is seen by all—every day, in all actions. Influence goes on underneath the surface and happens after the meeting is over. Influence is the conversations that happen in the sterilization room or in the parking lot after work. It’s “the conversations at the water fountain.”

As a leader, do what you say you will do and be a role model for others. Your influence may be more impactful in those unspoken actions than in the words you speak. John Hancock said, “The greatest ability in business is to get along with others and to influence their actions.”


While a person may be given – or may have earned – a position of leadership, they become a true leader and have a constructive impact when their influence makes a difference in the lives and performance of people and on the organization.
Ken Blanchard says, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”

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