By Jada Edwards
As a leader, do you struggle with how to get things done or how to win over certain people? In my speaking and travels that has been a pervasive topic in many of the conversations with other leaders I’ve met.
And in drilling down into the underlying issue, I’ve found there are two ways the pendulum swings when it comes to leading people in the local church, whether they are paid staff or volunteers: leading out of authority or leading out of influence.
For us as leaders it’s really important to know the difference between the two and when they’re necessary. Authority is positional power to make decisions. Influence is the ability to affect ideas and actions.
Here are several more distinctions:
Authority is expensive. Influence is free.
Authority is expensive because it requires giving people certain tools and staff and all the resources that come with a position.
But influence is free. You can build relationships anytime you want and expand your sphere of influence.
Authority is resisted. Influence is accepted.
Influence is when people accept your ideas, not just because of who you are or the position you hold, but because you have persuaded them to a way of thinking or to a course of action.
And just because somebody is doing what you’re asking them to do or it seems like they’re going along with it, doesn’t mean you have influence.
If you work somewhere and your boss gives you a directive, you may follow that directive because he or she has the authority, right?
But influence is when you want to do it. When someone is led out of authority only, they’re not going to care about the things their leader cares about when they are no longer under that authority.
The influential leader helps those he or she leads see why what they are doing together is necessary, and meaningful and valuable.
Authority is obvious. Influence is mysterious.
And influential leader doesn’t crave the credit when something is accomplished. When you influence people, they may not give you the accolades because it’s not necessarily obvious who exactly made the accomplishment.
When we lead out of authority only, we know our chain of command, we know who our bosses are, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the sustainable way people make kingdom accomplishments.
Authority is short-lived. Influence is long-term.
Authority can be quickly affected by external forces. If you’re leading primarily through authority, when you no longer have that authority, everything changes. Influence relies more on the character of the person despite a change in relationship.
Are you an influencer?
At this point you might be asking yourself: Do I primarily lead from authority or from influence? I’m not saying lead out of one or the other; you need both.
However, influence is the most sustainable way and many times you won’t have the authority to carry out what you need to carry out.
Here are a few self-examination questions to gauge how you lead and what you might consider altering.
1. Do I mentor people?
When you mentor someone, you’re not merely executing decisions and sharing direction. You care about that person’s development in different areas of their life. Are you changing lives for the better?
Part of mentoring someone is inspiring them. You have to be objective, and you have to be observant. Do people say to you, you inspire me or thank you for pouring into me?
Authoritarian leaders draw out action from people, but influential leaders draw out greatness. And sometimes what you’re being used to do in the life of a person won’t show fruit today.
It may be something that will be evident in the future or the long term, but what you’re doing now makes the person better because they’ve been around you.
2. Do I understand and engage with emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand how people think and how they’re wired. A leader shouldn’t rely on intellect alone; they need to develop a healthy emotional awareness of the people they lead.
If you really want to understand how to influence people, you have to know where each of you are starting from. Most of us lead through our own lens.
And if I’m going to be influential, I have to remember that everyone doesn’t think like me.
As I get to know people, I consider their temperament, how they’re wired, what they need, and then I’m able to build influence.
3. Do I push or do I persuade?
It’s tempting to hurriedly push, particularly when you’re doing ministry in a fast-paced context and things need to happen quickly.
But when we push (authoritarian) instead of persuade (influential) people might still like the Church but they won’t like you.
What ends up happening is people go from ministry to ministry to ministry and campus to campus to campus. The authoritarian leadership style, alone, only works for a while.
But when the urgency starts to diminish, it’s going to boil down to your influence.
4. Do people seek my coaching?
It’s different for someone to ask you what to do versus how you would do it. It’s two different things. And more importantly, do they seek your coaching outside of your areas of expertise? If they do, that’s when you know you’re an influencer.
5. Do I leave an imprint?
It’s easy to confuse making an impression with making an imprint. Impressions are made on the surface. People might be impressed with you but not impacted by you. And as I mentioned earlier, influence really is about longevity.
I’ll say this last thing: Humility and acknowledgment of mistakes and weakness is critical in gaining influence. A leader who apologizes builds trust and gains influence.
Humility changes how people see you and trust you because it’s not that we’re never going to make mistakes, but people have to believe that you can own those mistakes. You’ll gain more influence with humility than you will with authority.
Will you work earnestly to build influence before you wield authority in your leadership? Not only will you and those you lead will be better off in the long run; your organization will be transformed.
JADA EDWARDS (@JadaEdwards1721) is a speaker, Bible teacher, and mentor. She has committed her life to equipping women of all ages, regardless of marital status, with practical, biblical truth to help them live more genuine lives. Jada also serves as the creative services director for One Community Church in Plano, Texas.