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Leadership And Influence

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 142

Is leadership just "influence"? No. Or, perhaps more accurately, not necessarily.
 
It depends on what one considers influence and to what degree one believes that we can change other's behaviors and influence, manipulate or cajole them to carry out their respective tasks as followers. It also depends on the degree to which, having moved individuals to do their respective tasks, that leaders really influence and change their heart in an effective and lasting manner.
 
Degrees of Influence
 
Of course, whether one is within or outside the church, there are degrees of influence even as there are degrees of willingness to be influenced. Some people are easier to influence than others. Some people are easier to influence in some areas than others.
 
For example, it is relatively simple to influence an adolescent who has just received their drivers license to take the car for a spin. It may be relatively simple for a "Daddy's girl" in need of an extra ten dollars for whatever purpose to pull the heart strings of her father...even though it may be against his better judgment. By the same token, it may be nearly impossible for the same father, immediately after having given the ten dollars to his daughter, to influence "daddy's girl" to do chores--or even a favor-- as a gesture of thanks.
 
One can, however, utilize various leadership "influences" to deal with the "impossible" situation of the unmotivated Daddy's girl. The father can offer more money. He can threaten to withhold the money. He can physical prevent the daughter from other favors. He can also physically supervise the daughter until the task is done. He can also manipulate the environment (e.g. "no more TV, telephone, etc) or expel her from the environment (e.g. go to your room!). He can try to appeal to higher values of generosity, thanksgiving, kindness and politeness.
 
Which of these is most effective? Which of these will have the greatest degree of influence? Hmmm, I'm not quite sure either. If influence means to draw out certain behaviors, its certainly possible that any or all of these might work. If influence, however, means to change the heart, values, and aspirations of the individual, it may not be so easy and clear-cut.
 
Influence As Control
 
In the example of "Daddy's Girl" above, what do all the potential strategies for motivating the daughter have in common? What they have in common is that each of those behaviors are controlling. Though perhaps well-intended, they are--pure and simple--controlling strategies not unlike the "carrot and stick" approach to motivation. Take away the carrot and stick and the motivation is gone.
 
Influence is control or, more accurately, an attempt to control. That is not to say it is necessarily good or bad. It is simply to say that it is just that, control. Or is it? Could it be that "control" is just an illusion? Could it be that we really don't control anybody?
 
Could it be that influence is simply what happens when one speaks to the needs, desires and values of another in such a way as to have their own internal controls directed in concert with others with similar needs, desires and values? Could it be that if those needs, desires and values are not within that individual that leaders--no matter how influential or persuasive--will have little or no positive influence?
 
Influence In Biblical Perspective
 
Certainly the Bible calls leaders to exert positive influence and leadership. St. Paul in his pastoral exhortations to others and in his own ministry shared how he preached boldly and persuasively. He used leadership to exert influence.
 
However, Paul had learned early in his Christian ministry that he was merely a sower. He only planted seeds. Oh, certainly, the means by which he planted "seeds" was in the most influential, exciting, passionate, persuasive manner that the giftedness which God gave made possible .
 
But did his leadership influence others? Did it influence others equally? Did it always influence people and circumstances to the response intended and expected? The answer is simple. No.
 
How did Paul learn that? Certainly it was not an easy lesson for an "all-too-much-in-control" Saul turned Paul. It was only in defeat, rejection, being beaten up and left for dead, disappointments, and in extreme weakness that he finally learned what many leaders never learn. Leaders cannot, do not, and never will really be able to control results. All they can do is control their own output not guarantee organizational outcomes.
This in an imperative observation for leaders of all stripes and ranks--Christians or non-Christians, pastors or lay. The ability to influence has no guarantees. To expect otherwise is not only a fantasy, it is a delusion which may set the stages for personal mental health crises.
 
What Can You Influence
 
What can you influence? Leadership, if it can influence anything at all, can only evoke reactions and responses. In the case of Daddy's girl above, the loving father could suggest courses of actions. He could not, however, control the course or outcome of her actions. Her responses could range anywhere along the spectrum from extremely positive to extremely negative. Her reactions could have been agreement, disagreement, exhilaration to do more than asked, apathy, rebellion, or a plethora of other responses.
 
When exerting influence, leaders can expect that though they cannot control the strength, intensity or effectiveness of the responses--let alone control the responses themselves--they can expect there will be reactions and chain reactions to their attempts at leadership--overt and/or covert, healthy or unhealthy, expected or unexpected.
 
The Real Truth Of Leadership
 
The Second Law of Thermodynamics applies also in leadership. For every action of influence there is a reaction to it which, in the determination of the responder, will be equal and opposite. The leader can express preferences, give examples and model what he considers to be appropriate desired "equal" and "opposite" responses. But such does not guarantee the desired response will be displayed.
 
The real "read-between-the-lines" truth of leadership may be this: Leadership is not just influence. Leadership is influencing and accepting the inherent uncontrollable risks that come from exerting influence.
 
Some Observations
 
Given these observations that leaders may not have as much influence as they might wish, leaders--especially Christian leaders--should consider the following.
 

1) Just because you are the leader does not mean you are--or should be--in control. God is.

2) Though leaders may use bureaucracies, policies, wisdom and charisma et al. to gain control, all things considered, these are simply tools for exerting influence, not for control. The results of the influence of such tools is also out of one's control.

3) The recognition that leaders do not control outcomes is not, in any way, to suggest that leadership is, or should be, passive. Nor is it to suggest that leaders just sit back and let God randomly do whatever He will do and let their ministries fall prey to entropic forces. To do so is to commit a most grievous act spiritual disobedience and defiance of God's calling.

4) God's calling is exactly that: a calling. It is a calling to be actively and energetically engaged in whatever ministry efforts are needed to win some. It is a calling to passionately preach the Word even when the results are virtually guaranteed to be dismal and the positive results sparse (Isaiah 6).

5) The Christian pastor's call to leadership is a calling to determine, on the basis of purely scriptural principles, God's vision for your ministry calling in whatever setting God has given you. Applied to churches, it is a calling for pastors to lead a process of creating and clarifying mission statements, to set short and long-term objectives for ministry, and to oversee--and influence--strategic processes by which these objective will be enacted for the glory of God.

6) It is also a calling to recognize that even as it is God who has given the calling, that it was God who empowered, enabled, and guided the output required by the calling, that it is God who will determine the results of the calling.

7) The most healthy--and often overlooked--element of leadership planning is to set the plans into the hands of God. Perhaps this is one of the greatest leadership shortfalls in the church. Moses, after having received the Ten Commandments, held a public gathering of the people in worship to present to them what God had given.

Scriptures indicate that when God's people were presented with plans from the Lord, they were placed in a covenantal posture of worship which required that 1) they recognize God's leading in their planning, 2) they proclaim their response--to God--of their intent to follow God's leading, and 3) they knew that the success of the endeavor was God's to determine. Often, an altar was built afterwards as a lasting sign of their covenantal recognition of God's ultimate working in their lives to accomplish His will in, with, through, and among them.

8) Perhaps it is time for congregations to move beyond simply approving various ministry actions by means of Board or congregational actions. Could it be that the most essential step--of presenting it to God--has been the most forgotten step? Could it be that the omission of this step has so thoroughly perverted the expectations of God's people that they look to their leaders as guarantors of results and not God?

9) Healthy leaders are able to separate outputs from outcomes. So are healthy followers. Perhaps the greatest ministry health-related crisis in the church is that God's people have forgotten whose church the Church really is, who really builds the Church, and whose will is that which really matters in the Church. It Jesus Christ's Church.

To the extent that pastors, parishioners, or other Christian leaders believe that they really build, control, determine and shape the will of the church is the extent to which that congregation is in danger of the greatest idolatry of self-worship. No wonder that congregations plagued by control issues are troubled congregations. They have effectively side-stepped the Author and Finisher of faith--and faith itself.

10) Healthy and effective Christian leaders will aggressively and passionately seek and utilize any and all appropriate resources possible for using in extending God's ministry through them and their church. Whether secular or religious, denominational or para-church, God has provided numerous resources for possible application in the church.

It is imperative that whatever the resources considered and/or utilized, leaders maintain the control filter which recognizes that all plans that are made are not guaranteed. They are simply placed into the hands of God as the greatest and sweetest-smelling sacrifice of thanksgiving we can give to a God who will use this sacrifice in the way He shall choose according to the pleasure of His gracious will.

Some Final Thoughts
 
Is leadership influence?
 
Perhaps it depends on what is meant by "influence" and whether or not "influence" means to shape outputs or guarantee outcomes. As one answers this question, one must also take into consideration the following: does it include God, exclude God, make God subservient to us, or make us subservient to God?
 
Perhaps the greatest consideration in influence is the consideration of what motivations are used in exerting influence. Is influence exerted in such a manner that the Law is improperly used to motivate God's people in subtle ways (e.g. guilt, obligation, fear, etc) to do what is needed? Or do leaders influence by means of setting forth a proper Gospel-focused message which focuses the Christian's every motivation purely, exclusively, and decisively on their response to Christ's love for them?
 
Perhaps the most important issue may not be whether leadership is influence. Instead, the issue may be is Christian leadership exerting Christian influence and Christian expectations among the people of God. Indeed, the greatest influence leaders can experience is the recognition of God's minute-by-minute influencing of every success, failure, triumph and tragedy in their lives and ministries. And isn't that really one of the most important aims of Christian leadership?
 
Thomas F. Fischer

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:02:59 PM