Military Book Reviews

Extraordinary Influence – How great leaders bring out the best in others

Bring the best out of your employees, motivate those that work for you, bring others to the top, coach well, know your people, set the example, etc…..  If you are a military leader no doubt you have been indoctrinated in this type of folk wisdom.

Army Field Manual 6-22 is full of this type of ideas and guidance.  The Army tenants of leadership are to “know your people, know yourself, provide honest feedback, and demand excellence”  among others. While these leadership tenants are good, they are based on individual’s life experience rather than hard science on leadership. Much like the mantra of “follow your passions” they have become overused to the point of losing much value.

Dr. Tim Irwin in his book Extraordinary Influence has taken a different tactic on the subject of leadership. Rather than using a typical “push model” of leadership where a leader will focus on what was not accomplished and use a carrot and stick approach to push his people to achieve sales goals, qualifications, or projects. Dr. Irwin uses a “pull model” of leadership by speaking “words of life” into an individual with the intent of speaking directly to their character.

This is a lesson our Military badly needs. By taking the so frequently used aggressive and “constructive criticism” approach to leadership we frequently cut our followers to the core. We not only fail to motivate, but the criticism serves to discourage, demotivate and lead to even worse performance. Fortunately, there is another way!

As a typical Military trained leader, this is something which I struggle with frequently. I see good performance, I want to recognize that performance yet I often struggle to say more than a relatively shallow “Good Job”. Fortunately,  frequent examples are given on how best to speak “words of life” into another person. By recognizing and speaking to the core competence behind the work leaders can exponentially increase the effect of their affirmations.

This is a mindset shift for me. When I would see a sailor doing a good job painting a wall I would frequently say something to the effect of   “Good job on the wall, it looks sharp”. Which is nice, and may bring a smile to the sailors face, but the words are not exactly a long-lasting affirmation. Now my appreciation will look like

“Good job on painting that wall, it looks sharp. I can tell you really a hard worker and committed to excellence.  If you continue that commitment to excellence in small things you may be driving this ship one day.”

A completely different mindset on affirmation. Extraordinary Influence has taught us that affirmations are not only about the work completed, but the intent, character, and heart behind the work.

Additionally, using the principles set out in Extraordinary Influence benefits both parties. Whether in a romantic, friendship or working relationship affirmations also benefit the giver.  Speaking from personal experience, when I take a moment to reflect on how grateful I am for another individual’s strengths, skill sets, and abilities. Affirming another’s skills puts me in a completely different mindset; a mindset of appreciation rather than criticism and a mindset of improving what is working rather than fixing what is broken.

Dr. Irwin work puts hard analytical science behind the 1400-year-old passage from the wisdom writer Lao-tse’s writings in Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people

Begin with what they have

Build on what they know

When the task is accomplished

The people will remark

We have done it ourselves.”

Extraordinary Influence has been nominated for the official Navy and Army Reading List, and absolutely belongs on any military leaders bookshelf. It offers a solid set of leadership tools for the military leader who may be more accustom to the more common “constructive feedback” method of leadership.


TIM IRWIN ( is a New York Times bestselling author, speaker, and consultant to a host of top organizations throughout the U.S. and more than twenty-five countries. In addition, Dr. Irwin regularly appears on national media outlets and his ideas are often showcased in leading business publications.

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