My friend Mike Reuter writes a weekly leadership blog called “Three-Minute Leadership.” I highly recommend you subscribing to Mike’s blog. Today Mike wrote about a subject with which I am very familiar.

Mike quoted Charles Schulz, the beloved creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip and related television specials. Mike reminded his readers that Schulz had at one time asked people to reflect on the influence they have had on others and how others have influenced them. Schulz asked people to reflect upon a series of basic questions:

1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners. (That’s college football’s highest individual award)
3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America pageant.
4. Name 10 people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.
5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.
6. Name the last decade’s worth of World Series winners. (That’s baseball)

Unless you are a very special person, especially in this age of the Internet, my guess is that you did not fare particularly well. After all, in this era there is less pressure to remember facts like these because we can always use the Google machine. I know several people who respond to a question in the middle of a conversation by pausing, picking up their cell phones, and simply looking up the answer.

The point of this quiz is that few people remember well the headliners of the past, even the recent past.
As Mike recounts, Schulz said these are no second-rate achievers – they are the best in their fields.

Here’s another quiz Charles Schulz posed. Do not be deterred by your results on that first quiz. Measure your success on this second quiz:
1. List three teachers who aided your journey through school – elementary school, high school or college
2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time in your life.
3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile that you remember to this day.
4. Think of three people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
5. Think of five people you have enjoyed spending time with during the past decade.
This second quiz is much easier, I am guessing.

Mike’s post today about Charles Schulz reminded me of the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” workshop I facilitated for 25 years at Georgetown University. Stephen Covey’s Habit #2 was and is “Begin with the End in Mind.” It’s all about thinking about the goal, result or outcome before we begin any project or take on any new relationship, either in our professional lives or our personal lives.

During my teaching of this habit, I asked my students to take a very similar quiz. I don’t think that Stephen Covey credited Charles Schulz with these quizzes. Perhaps Covey neglected to do so or I have forgotten. The important point is the effect of these two alternate quizzes.

What I remember most is how people’s eyes lit up when they started answering the second set of questions. Not only did they smile and share their answers with other people seated at their table, many were eager to raise their hands and share their stories with the other attendees in the workshop. They told their stories with joy and pride.

I believe that good leadership is about having a positive influence on other people. That influence can take many shapes and sizes. Perhaps you role modeled good leadership for your direct reports. Maybe you succeeded at managing up and mirroring some excellent leadership behaviors to your own leader. Or maybe you were fortunate to serve on the board of a not-for-profit organization in your own community and helped influence that organization’s culture in a very meaningful way. We never know all the myriad ways in which we can have a significant and long-last influence on others.

Several months ago I met a dear friend of mine for coffee at a local Starbucks. I had served as a manager and leader for this person at a meaningful time during the relatively early part of her career. I was lucky to work with her for about five years 20 years ago before she flew out of the nest and commenced a steadily rising ascent within the Washington, DC legal world.

As we sat and caught up, she smiled and said, “You know, whenever I find myself in a tough situation at work, I always ask myself the question: ‘What would Larry do?’”

I was stunned. “Really?,” I said. “After all these years?”

“Yes,” she replied. “The influence you have had on my own leadership continues to this day.” I was very humbled – and very gratified – by her response.

The lesson for all of us, as my friend Mike Reuter points out, : The people who make a difference in your lives are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money or the most awards. The differences are simply made by the ones who care the most and are there for us in good times and tough moments.

Please take two minutes and reflect on this short newsletter. Please think about all the people who have had a wonderfully positive effect on you. Then take another minute and think about where you are at this point in your life?

Who can you start or continue having a positive influence on as you continue your own leadership journey? – Friends, colleagues, mentees, students, children, fellow volunteers.

Go out and do it. You will find it so rewarding!

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