Impressing vs. Influencing

Go to content

Impressing vs. Influencing

Black Belt Leadership
Published by John Terry - The Black Belt Leader in Leadership · 24 September 2020
Tags: beablackbeltleader
Impressing vs. Influencing
By: John Terry - The Black Belt Leader

One of my earlier memories of martial arts was learning kata. Kata is a series of sequential movements, commonly called a form or a pattern, simulating how various martial arts techniques are used to defend yourself against an attacker. My instructors would teach me various stances, movements, blocks, punches, kicks, and transitions - then we would put them together in a sequential series of movements.

Every testing required that you learn a new kata. As a young teen, I wanted to impress my instructors and the testing board who would grade our performance and determine whether or not we would be promoted to our next rank. I wanted to make sure that every move was precise, powerful, flawless, and I put on an excellent performance. I wanted to leave no doubt that I knew my stuff and I was "good" at what I was learning.

I wanted to impress.

In a traditional martial arts school, everyone lines up at the start of class by rank - black belts in the front and then the colored belt students lined up, in descending rank order. White belts were in the back. As I began to move up in rank, I started to slowly move closer to the front of the class. I remember my excitement when I first moved off of the back row, Now the newer students in the "back of the room" could see how good I was and I could inspire them to be just like me.

Again, I wanted to impress.

When we would partner up in class to work on self-defense or sparring, my focus was on showing my Uke (practice partner) how good I was. When I got the chance to lead the exercise portion of the class, I wanted to make sure everyone saw just how fit I was. I wanted to do more pushups, situps, burpees, wall-sits, jumping jacks, and box jumps than anyone else in the class.

Again, I wanted to impress.

But then something changed. I began to mature both as a practitioner of the martial arts and as a young man. My dad was mentoring me in leadership. My instructors began to teach me in a different way. They began to remind me that to whom much is given, much is required. I was reminded that the purpose of learning martial arts was not only to become a good practitioner of the Arts, but to live out the 7 virtues of Bushido - the martial arts code of conduct: integrity, respect, heroic courage, honor, compassion, honesty & sincerity, and duty & loyalty.

Like the ancient Samurai of feudal Japan, I was to represent the Founder of our Martial Arts system, my instructors, and my fellow students, to the best of my abilities. When I was in class, at home, in school, or in public, I represented my dojo, my teacher, and the martial arts lineage of our Founder in the way I conducted my life.

It wasn't about impressing. It was about becoming influential.

This was impactful for me...and changed the way I trained in martial arts, and the way I live my life. No longer was it about people being impressed by John Terry. It became about helping those who were training with me develop themselves as martial arts practitioners. About pouring into the lives of my fellow students, being an encourager, and leading myself well so I could serve as a role model for others to emulate and follow.

It isn't about impressing people. It is about becoming influential.

Author of "The Fred Factor", Mark Sanborn, says impressing people may change what they think, but influencing people changes what they do. I would take that a step farther and say that influencing people changes who they are and what they become.

Impressing put the focus and attention on you. It's self-gratification, ego-centered, and selfish. It serves you more than it serves those whom you're impressing. Over the years, I've been initially impressed with a number of celebrities, athletes, and famous people. Their talent or skill made them stand out from the crowd.

But impression is short-lived. Along comes another celebrity, athlete, or famous person who attracts my attention and we all move on the next new "shiny object". Or others come along and mimic their success or find a new gimmick to gain followers and personal attention.

How many one-hit-wonders have we seen on YouTube, Instagram, Tik Tok, or other social media platforms over the years? How many times have you initially been impressed (or perhaps entertained is a better word), and then move on the the "next new thing"?

Influence, on the other hand, puts the focus on the other person. It is about developing those around you so they can become a better version of themselves and experience the life-change that comes from adopting not only a new way of thinking but a new way of becoming. Influence is about shaping and molding what is inside someone, helping others learn to lead themselves well and make good choices so they, in turn, can lead others.

For centuries, this is how the martial arts have continued. The student goes from just being a student to becoming a disciple, a serious student, of the Arts. It is then they are taught at a deeper level, as the Master Instructor pours all of the insight and wisdom he has learned from those who came before him, along with his own knowledge, so it can continue to influence those who will perpetuate the continuation of instruction when the Master Instructor is gone.

It is about influencing others, cultivating, mentoring, and equipping the leaders who will one day take your place. Modeling a life of excellence you want others to embrace and live out before future generations of followers.

This is influence at its highest level, and it is the leader's greatest return.

It's the same model Jesus used with his followers. Followers became disciples, so they could learn the deeper aspects of what He taught and believed. The disciples internalized this belief system, adopted it as their own, and replicated the process in the lives of billions of people around the globe since Jesus walked the earth in the First Century AD.

This Black Belt Leadership Principle of Influence can be seen throughout history. Socrates, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, the ancient Shoguns of Japan, and other world religions have all used influence to mold and shape the lives of their followers, and to define culture.

Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Nelson Mandella, and Mother Teresa all understood and employed the Black Belt Leadership Principle of Influence. Thought leaders like Simon Sinek, Malcolm Gladwell, Darren Hardy, Brendon Burchard, John Maxwell, and Seth Godin use their influence to challenge the status quo and inspire people to pursue greatness.

I hear my mentor, John Maxwell, say often that leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less. Influence, by definition, is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself. Being impressive, on the other hand, is evoking admiration.
Being impressive is self-serving. Being an influencer is others-serving.

As a leader, if you want to be effective, long-term, and live a life of significance, you have an obligation to get the attention off of yourself and onto the people you are leading. Leaders want the best for their people and put their emphasis on people-development, not on making themselves look good.

Influential leaders are committed to the welfare and well-being of those they are leading. It's not about impressing your followers; it's about equipping them, resourcing them, and pouring into them. In the words of John Griffin, it's about teaching people to be good at what they do, but great at who they are.

My friend, Mark Cole, the CEO of John Maxwell Enterprises, was once asked by John Maxwell if he wanted to lead or wanted to be loved. John wanted Mark to understand early on that you can be impressive (or entertaining) and people will love you (at least for a season), or you can be a Black Belt Leader and an influencer who helps people change their lives for the better. That choice is yours.

Remember, people will follow someone with whom they are impressed for a season, but they will follow an influencer who truly has their best interest at heart to the ends of the earth.

So do you want to be loved, or do you want to lead?

Do you want to impress, or do you want to influence?

Do you want to a pat on the back, or do you want to make a difference?

Your job, as a Black Belt Leader, is to become a person of influence, not an impressive person.

Back to content