Many of us tend to underestimate ourselves and downplay our own influence.

In religious congregations, workplaces, schools and other places people gather, high value is placed on things like leadership, creativity and ability to inspire. Yet while we seek people with such attributes when building our various communities, few people believe they personally possess those qualities.

According to Gallup, 10% of people are natural leaders. Harvard Business Review says even fewer among us believe we have the ability to inspire others. A larger number of people say they’re “creative,” but only 39% of respondents to Adobe’s study of the topic would describe themselves that way.

The truth is that we have at least the building blocks of these influential attributes: potential. That’s because we can learn to lead, inspire and be more creative.

In terms of ability to lead and inspire, most of us have far more influence than we believe or acknowledge, according to a Cornell Research study of organizational behavior.

Researchers asked participants to complete a series of tasks that required them to persuade strangers to comply with a request. Before attempting each task, participants were asked to predict how effective their persuasive powers would be.

In all of the tasks, participants underestimated the persuasive effort they’d expend in meeting each goal. This was true even when participants needed to persuade others to do something unethical, such as vandalizing a library book to help with a prank.

Further, the study indicates that the medium used to ask for help or participation can play a role. Researchers found that asking for something face-to-face is most effective, while an emailed request can be more readily turned down.

The study speaks to the human tendency to seek to belong. This common desire can be harnessed in positive ways, bolstering a belief that others want to assist our efforts to develop as leaders and influencers.

For example, you may want to start a teen youth group in your congregation. You might tell yourself your idea isn’t appealing enough to share with others. That could lead you to hold back and develop the belief that others won’t listen to you or value your opinion. Maybe you also fear teens won’t join the group or participate in activities.

Such situations provide opportunities to practice empathy and consider your idea from different perspectives, say Cornell researchers.

When you place yourself in the shoes of the person being asked to support an idea or participate in something, the study shows you’re reluctant to say “no.” This realization should serve as a reminder that bolsters your confidence about stepping forth to share an idea or lead an initiative.

Your chances of success increase even more when you take care to present yourself as patient, kind, optimistic, honest, enthusiastic and respectful — all qualities that humans tend to appreciate and strive to emulate.

Overall, the average person has the potential to achieve beyond the average impact.

Karris Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at onfaith@karrisgolden.com.


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