Leadership Within – The Ladder of Influence

Posted on: November 19, 2019

The other day, my daughter and I were talking about my parenting style. She told me how easy it was to bring issues to me to talk about because I don’t freak out. While I appreciated the sentiment, (I think it means I’m doing ok as a parent), I admitted to her I haven’t always been this way.
I told her about a time when I was in my twenties, living in Whitehorse. The person who owned my house before me had wrapped Christmas lights around the young fir tree, which was now not so young. As it grew, the wires had become entangled in the branches and and in some cases were growing into the trunk. I told her how I had crawled into the branches one cold November day to try and remove all the old lights.
During my multi-hour ordeal, I admitted I had dropped a few choice word and phrases. Then once I was done I strung new lights on the outside of the tree, and went on my merry way.About a week later I was in the alleyway talking to a neighbor over the fence. “you should have heard someone last week, man there was a lot of loud swearing going on” he said.
Embarrassed, I realized that I had made a fool of myself, and impacted the neighbours through by my inability to control my anger. It was a quality I immediately recognized as having come from my upbringing, my past. It originated from and was reinforced by my “Ladder of Influence” – those things that have happened before, that influence how we see, experience and respond to our world. I made a vow that day to change that about myself, and today, I think of myself as calm and reasoned person.
“The Ladder of Influence” is an intuitive, systematic process we all use internally, to respond to external situations or stimulus.
How it works:
From our earliest learning experiences, we build a mental encyclopedia of responses, experiences and self-reflections. This vast mental encyclopedia is tempered by the outcome of each and every situation we encounter. Over time, each of these mental “files of expectation” build upon the preceding ones until we develop an unconscious ‘reflex curve.’ Or, in other words. a default way that we react or respond when things happen to or around us.
Leaders must understand their own series of intuitive psychological action / response mechanism or steps, if they are to understand how and why they or their peers respond to situations the way they do.
Over time, in our workplace, peers perceive our personal ‘reflex curve’ in how we respond or react to situations. For example, if, in the past you have been able to deal effectively with stressful situations and maintained your composure; chances are the next time a similar situation arises, staff will likely ask for assistance to resolve the situation.
If, however, you flew off the handle when things went sideways, chances are staff would not bring you issues or concerns for fear of your response.
Again; how you respond is based on your reflex curve, what they see creates their impression of yours. Each time a new situation arises, we search our encyclopedias for similar past experiences upon which to base what we expected to have happen to what actually did occur. We then respond, based on what got us the best results the last time something similar occurred. This intuitive “Reflex” response can be adapted over time, by focusing on the behaviours you want to show to others, when situations arise.
Examples of negative reflex curves are: treating others poorly, so we feel better about ourselves; reacting angrily when something doesn’t meet our expectations, shunting off any reasonable explanation; sharing our toxic stuff insensitively with others without consideration for what it will result in; fighting with others because they don’t agree with rigid views.
I’ve learned over the years that it is only once we see and understand the ladder of Influence within ourselves that we can work to overcome if the responses we share are negative, or reinforced if they are positive.
Today, while I still can get upset, I work on reinforcing my positive reflex curve which makes me question why something occurs, what I can do about it, and how to respond in a way that builds long term relationships. I’m not always perfect in how I respond, but I hope that I get better at managing it each and every day.
Understanding this internal process and working on it has had a positive benefit for me (and my daughter), and can also be powerful for you.