Actions and Reactions: Understanding Influence

As humans, we all want to enhance our influence on others.

But let’s start on the right foot…

When I say influence, I don’t mean manipulate or coerce. When I say ‘influence,’ I’m using the term much more generally – to refer to the impact that we have on others every time we interact.

When we convey information, coach or develop others, set boundaries, and everything else that communication entails, we’re exerting an influence. And in my long career as an executive coach, I’ve learned that we can all become better at influencing those we lead.

One of the most powerful tools we can use to improve our influence is The Leadership Compass.

​The Leadership Compass

The Leadership Compass is a tool I’ve created over the years; it’s based on The Rose of Leary (Leary, 1957).

Like Leary’s Rose, it has two perpendicular axes, which represent two dimensions or continua:

  • The Active – Passive dimension, and
  • The I – We dimension.

Influence Communication Leadership CompassKnowing the neurobiological significance of these axes to us as people and leaders (in a sense, what ‘needs’ they represent) is highly valuable. It equips us with a much stronger understanding of our own behaviors and the behaviors of others so that we can approach interactions in a much more conscious way to have an impact that’s most beneficial for all involved.

And those behaviors, of course, are all interrelated – especially when it comes to communication!

​The Active – Passive Dimension

Have you noticed that some people tend to dominate conversations quite frequently, while others take more of a back seat?

You might also have noticed that sometimes, this will change, depending on circumstances and context?

The Active – Passive dimension covers the spectrum of these differences in dominance.

  • Active behaviors are the most dominant. They’re what I call ‘steering’ behaviors, including things like having a big influence on what is discussed and the outcomes of the conversation.
  • Passive behaviors are the opposite; they can include things like letting others take the lead or just “getting on with it” rather than trying to have a say.

If Active Allen and Passive Petra were talking, for example, we might see Allen laying out a set of discussion points and making his views heard very frequently. Petra might nod, quietly following along, before acting on Allen’s suggestions. Or she might keep quiet, but refuse to follow through – because passive behaviors can also include resistance!

Perhaps you’ve already noticed something…

There is an easy way to understand how the Active – Passive dimension works in practice:

“When someone displays Active behavior, others are triggered to show Passive behavior.”

The I – We Dimension

Cutting across the Active – Passive dimension is the I – We axis. This describes the extent to which someone’s behavior is centered around expressing their opinions, their needs.

  • I behaviors entails communicating, emphasizing, or defending your own thoughts, actions, or perspectives.
  • We behaviors are more focused on your mutual relationship(s). Your own thoughts and interests might play second fiddle to your desire to get along, cooperate, and collaborate. But finally, all interests in the interaction are seen as valuable and important.

Ibadah, who shows a lot of “I” behaviors, might say or do things like loudly justifying her arguments. Alternatively, she might refuse to cooperate with a teammate (even without saying a word), because she’s certain of her standpoint. This is in contrast with “We” Wyatt, whose actions and behaviors read “Let’s get along.”

The I – We dimension can be understood as follows:

“I behaviors encourage I behaviors in others”


“We behaviors encourage We behaviors in others”

​Behaviors vs. Personality

Right now, you might be thinking “I like Passive Petra, she seems nice,” or “Ibadah sounds like a strong personality.

But as a leader, it’s important to be clear about something: our tendency toward active, passive, “I”, or “We” behaviors may reflect some aspects of our personalities. But they are not fixed by any means, and that’s at the very heart of personal and leadership development.

Just as we can learn to understand The Leadership Compass, we can learn to switch and adapt our behaviors to our situational demands.

Leadership is not easy by any means, but you can take time to reflect, collect feedback on your proclivity for certain behaviors, and how they relate to your Ambition – your personal Why.

Next week, I will look in more detail at the different behaviors within the Compass, but for now, I recommend you try noticing your communication preferences in practice.

What do you observe?

Leave me a comment and let me know!


Leary, T. (1957). Interpersonal diagnosis of personality. Ronald Press.