The recent passing of Maya Angelou - a major influence, source of inspiration and comfort in so many lives - sent me on an inner journey regarding the individuals who have served as guiding forces at various points in my life. Some of these individuals were directly involved in my life as family members, friends, coworkers, educators and mentors, while some served as a guiding force through their writings and works of art. These are the obvious influencers for most of us. The surprise influences in my life were the result of a chance encounter and seemingly fleeting conversation with a stranger on a plane, in an airport, in a hallway, on an elevator and even in the checkout line of a grocery store. These brief chance encounters often provided exactly what I needed to hear or experience at a particularly challenging moment in time. I occasionally wonder if any of these strangers had any idea of how powerful their words may have been in the life of the person on the other side of the encounter. Probably not.
A common and dangerous misconception is that one has to be in a position of power in order to influence others. The truth of the matter is that each of us has the capacity to influence others in every domain of our lives, both intentionally and unintentionally. Influence, at it's most basic level, reflects our power "to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others." How different might all of our interactions be if we regularly reminded ourselves of the potential impact all of our words and actions could have on others?
We are all influencers, whether we are or are not aware of this reality. With this reality comes great responsibility to increase our awareness regarding the potential impact of our words and actions. We all need the many gifts that others have to offer us with their words and actions and vice versa. Maya Angelou fully understood and brilliantly articulated this in her poem "Phenomenal Woman." I suggest that each of us is phenomenal in a unique and powerful manner. It is our responsibility to recognize our impact on others via our words and actions. Imagine the potential for positive influence, connection and transformation as each of us increases our awareness regarding how phenomenal we truly are.