The secret of my influence has always been that it remained secret. ~Salvador Dali

Over the weekend I finished watching Merlin. It is probably one of my all-time favorites and I would recommend checking it out if you have time (Netflix). While I am disappointed that there will not be a 6th season, the final episode presented an interesting view of power and influence.

A big part of the final episode is Merlin’s ongoing dialogue with King Arthur. Merlin has revealed that he is a warlock and Gaius tells Arthur that Merlin might be the most powerful that ever existed. The dynamic is quite interesting. We watch Arthur struggle with the Merlin he has known all these years as his servant and the Merlin he has just witnessed vanquish Morgana and her army. How can this be? Why would Merlin choose to be Arthur’s manservant when he has this incredible power? How has Merlin been impacting things over the years? How has Merlin influenced Arthur without him even knowing it?

Contrast this with Morgana, a High Priestess of the Old Religion, and we really get some insights into the relationship between power and influence. Merlin is all about what is best for Camelot and he believes Arthur, as their leader, is the best choice. So Merlin chooses to use his power sparingly and instead influences Arthur when he can.  Only as a last resort does Merlin use power. Morgana, on the other hand, is all about power. She wants revenge. She wants to make Camelot submit to her will. Forget influence. She wants results.

Merlin and Morgana used both power and influence, but in different proportions. It produced different results. In the series, as in real-life, even the best mix can still yield unfavorable results as nothing happens in a vacuum. But Merlin’s balance made Camelot and Arthur better. Morgana’s balance was destructive, self serving, and negatively impacted many.

So how does this apply to real-life? Each day we have a choice. Do we seek to influence others? Do we use power to get our way? Reflecting, I have found influence to produce better results. In my opinion this is particularly important in academia. Having everyone on the same page, pulling in the same direction makes a world of difference. Influence requires listening, discussion, and negotiation to work.

In the end leadership, for me, is more about influence than power.

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