A leader needs influence to move a community in the right direction. Eight key factors can help you gain and keep influence writes F. Douglas Powe, Jr., director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, and James C. Logan, Chair of Evangelism (an E. Stanley Jones Professorship), at Wesley Theological Seminary.
There is often a difference between who is in charge and who has influence. The person in charge may have authority by virtue of title or position. The person with influence may have it by virtue of wisdom, expertise, age, financial support of the institution, and so on. Title and position may allow you to make decisions and give commands. But influence is required to move a community in a different direction.
How do you gain influence if you do not have it in the beginning? How do you keep influence if you need to make major changes? Eight factors contribute to generative influence.
It should be no surprise that the influence of leaders flows from their relationships with others. Generally, we listen to those who have built strong relationships with us. They have earned the right to share challenging ideas or information with us. They have earned the right to seek our support. Building and maintaining relationships with others helps a leader develop generative influence. Leaders need to be astute in developing relational clout, taking the time to meet and talk with others and learning to rely on people who can enhance their clout by vouching for them.
It is important to have a certain level of competence in areas in which you seek influence. You don’t need to know everything, but people need to believe you know something about the subject at hand. A leader who knows the lay of the land has a better chance of success. This means doing your homework before presenting an idea to the community. And a part of being knowledgeable is knowing where to go for more information.
Trust is closely related to relational influence. As leaders, we need to help others trust our ability to perform in a role or to complete a task. And we need to help them trust the vision we journey toward. We help others trust our ability when they experience us as competent. This may take time, especially if we are new. It is sometimes the case that a leader is highly competent in a leadership role but is still not considered trustworthy. In these situations, trust often develops when the leader works with the community to achieve a common goal.
To influence others, it is important to be honest. When people can believe what a leader tells them, they are more likely to journey with that leader. As leaders, we must be open about what we know and don’t know, about what we can and cannot do. We can admit where we need help and when we have made a mistake. Admitting your shortcomings goes a long way in proving you have the authenticity and integrity needed to build relationships and trust. People are willing to journey with those who have integrity.
5. Investing in others
To gain influence, leaders have to invest in others, committing time and effort to know and encourage them. People need to believe a leader is interested in who they are and what they do. When we take the time to really listen to others, they are more willing to listen to us. An influential leader takes time to discover the hopes and dreams of others and help them achieve their dreams. When we make this type of investment in others, we will find that they are more willing to invest in us.
6. A clear direction
Mapping out a clear direction is critical to establishing influence. There may never be 100 percent agreement within a congregation about the best way forward. Yet an influential leader seeks a consensus on where the church should be headed and how it should get there. We are better able to influence others when the direction we are headed in is clear.
Flexibility is another key factor contributing to a leader’s influence. Being flexible doesn’t mean being wishy-washy or indecisive. Instead of just agreeing with the last person in the room, a flexible leader takes time to dig more deeply into the issue and learn the underlying cause of the problem in hopes of finding a compromise. Learning to be flexible in the right way builds a leader’s influence. When others see a leader’s willingness to compromise, they are more willing to do the same. Great leaders are typically decisive but understand the importance of being flexible to help move people forward missionally.
Influential leaders inspire others. Being inspirational is not about having a charismatic personality. It’s about motivating others to work hard and reach higher levels of spiritual maturity. Congregations tend to excel when individual members are inspired to use their gifts to fulfill the church’s mission. Influential leaders find ways to inspire others to excel.
The goal of all leaders, regardless of their leadership role or leadership style, should be to influence others to participate in God’s mission. No one person is likely to have all eight characteristics. But a good team will collectively embody these different characteristics.
This article is adapted from The Adept Church: Navigating Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Abingdon Press, 2020) by F. Douglas Powe, Jr. Used by permission. The book is available at Cokesbury and Amazon.
- The Adept Church: Navigating Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Doug Powe
- “The Adept Church,” a Leading Ideas Talks podcast episode featuring F. Douglas Powe Jr.
- Is Your Congregation a Swamp, a Reservoir, or a Canal? by Doug Powe