Leadership Is Influence, Not Mandate


I was recently asked what intangible aspect of leadership is most difficult to convey or prepare for. My response? Leadership is influence, not mandate.

The use of formal powers is your enemy. Making decisions with the confidence of being “in control” of things will lead to more mistakes than successes. Control is a mirage. See the world for what it is; negotiate opportunities for win-win moments between people, organizations, and communities. Give in, let yourself go, and negotiate for mutual gains on every level.

To that last point, if I could go back in time and share some advice with myself, it would be to find the way to say yes to as many approaches to the same challenge as I can. Not one person you will meet today will ask you to work on your own agenda. To the last person, they will want you to engage and work on their agendas. Trust that if you can contribute to others reaching their goals, your goals will also be identified and reached. Create the spaces between the black and white so everyone can be creative alongside you, not behind you.

Trying to control everything by making all the rules and setting a rigid structure loses sight of what makes a company successful. That’s why I’ve encouraged staff-created programs at my organization; it reminds me that structure is not the engine of innovation, people are! Programs like “Be an Innovator” and its successors are about walking the talk and bringing out the skills in people to challenge the status quo and identify how we should do things differently. It’s a learning experience for people from all levels of the company: people learning to define innovation, learning to champion disruption, and learning to persevere through lots of ideas that don’t cut the mustard.

Is this how you see effective management and leadership?


  • Randy Karnes

    From 1994 to 2021, Mr. Karnes was CEO of CU*Answers, a credit union-owned CUSO that provides core processing, consulting, management, and technology services. An active participant in the credit union industry since 1985, Mr. Karnes currently serves on the Boards of Xtend and eDOC Innovations and formerly served on the Board of Callahan and Associates for many years. Mr. Karnes has an infectious vision and drive for bringing credit unions together to explore the power of collaboration in entirely new ways. His enthusiasm for imagining and building new credit union business models has been helping to change the way many credit unions will approach serving members now and in the future.

  • Jack Antonini#1

    December 3, 2020

    Great point on how leadership is truly influencing and inspiring, not mandating what you hope to achieve. I found this to be true at USAA, where I was promoted to COO and later to CEO of USAA’s banking operations, largely based on being willing to take a risk in serving our members, rallying the 4 other SVPs to support what we needed to do, and inspiring our team at the bank to put members first. The extraordinary things we achieved were from inspiring our leadership team, empowering our employees (including providing a safety net & rewards for those who took risk in helping to achieve our goals) and recognizing contributions of our people. People appreciate the support and respect we give them, and work to help achieve goals they have bought into — which is largely about influencing and inspiring as a leader.


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