We've all heard the John Maxwell saying "leadership is influence." Easier said than done, right? The real challenge is figuring out how to do it! Well, here's a clue: Get others to respond emphatically to your leadership. When you do, you're influencing.

OK, Mr. Smarty Pants, just how exactly do you do that? Start by first reminding yourself that leadership is not dictating, commanding, or imposing. It is being of service to others (yes, to your customers but especially to your employees).

The Clear Path of Influence

Let's get practical. It is empowering others to achieve their goals, bringing out the best in people, putting their needs ahead of your own (as a leader), and helping them develop. Think of the multiple ways these things can be done every day.

We call this servant leadership--one of the highest platforms to launch you toward influencing others. And it's great for your bottom line too, says a bunch of research.

The behaviors that lead to influence, as written about by thought-leaders like Adam Grant, Dan Pink, and Simon Sinek, point back to character. It is who you are, not what you do. It is a choice, not a prescribed process or to-do list.

Are you looking for influence in leading and making decisions? I submit the following as your road map for success:

1. Gain the trust of others.

The foundation for everything related to your leadership has to be built on trust. In his phenomenal book The Speed Of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey says that a team with high trust will produce results faster and at lower cost. Conventional thinking says that people have to earn trust first, right? But it has been found that, in healthy organizations, leaders with a servant mindset are willing to give trust to their followers first, and they give it as a gift even before it's earned.

2. Let go of your ego.

An unhealthy ego can be a liability on the performance of the business. Ask the late Kenneth Lay, former CEO of Enron. A leader with a healthy ego is one who has mastered the paradoxical balance of personal humility with confidence and fierce resolve. This is a leader (in a Jim Collins "Level 5" way) you want to follow because he or she is safe.

3. Demonstrate competence.

Sure, a strong character in service to others is crucial to get people from the neck up. But trust goes out the proverbial window if you can't demonstrate knowledge and expertise in your particular field or industry that will carry the vision forward. That includes the ability to communicate that vision, so followers are actively engaged in pursuing it. Competence builds confidence in your people. And their confidence in you, the leader, will ultimately deliver excellence.

4. Inspire others to find their voice.

In traditional, top-down hierarchies, bosses at the top of the food chain will lay out a vision, then use power and control to move people to carry out the vision. In today's social economy, leaders will cast a company vision and enroll their followers to express their voice as co-creators and co-contributors to the vision. The fear is pumped out of the room and people are liberated and empowered to collaborate, innovate, and engage.

5. Develop a cultural identity.

Companies like Google, Zappos, TDIndustries, and HubSpot have distinctive corporate identities that attract great employees. You'll find these corporate cultures usually centered around giving employees ownership over decisions (shared leadership), authenticity (open communication, expression of thoughts, ideas, and perspectives) and the building of community (collaboration, diversity, inclusion).

Parting Thoughts

We've reached an age of globalization that demands that companies hire and promote leaders high on organizational transparency and trustworthiness. As we head into 2017, start thinking about identifying and developing influential leaders to build into the DNA of your company culture.