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Leadership is all about influence, but the pursuit of influence, for its own sake, can be disastrous to the soul of the leader. It’s important to understand the nature of influence because it is a core component of leadership–but it’s also important to understand the dangers of pursuing influence as a goal in itself.

Influence is the process by which our ideas and our personal presence contribute to change in other people, in an organization, or in society. It is the effect we can have (whether intentional or accidental) on the thinking, feeling, or behavior of others.

Those who have a lasting influence are not always those who blast people with their boldness and bravado. Such people come across as trying too hard to be an influencer. Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5).

The real influencers are those who have come along side of you—not as the expert, but as a true friend. You allow them to engage your mind and your heart because you sense that they are authentic and have your best interest at heart. On the other hand, people who try to force their influence are like someone trying to force-feed a child, the jaws clamp down that much harder against the intrusion of their efforts.

Often, we influence others without knowing it. I have experienced the feeling that I was not an influence in a certain organization, only to find later that some of the ideas I introduced—at the very time I was feeling the lack of influence—were now adopted into the policies of the organization.

All leaders are influencers—but they don’t all set out to be influencers; influence is the natural outcome of their leadership.

Trying to be an influencer can be spiritually dangerous. When you focus on wanting to be an influence, you measure your success by how people respond to you rather than by how faithful you have been to your core values.

There is a principle in Scripture that “whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it” (Luke 17:33, ESV). This is also true of influence. When we seek to be an influencer we lose the true value of influence; but when we seek to serve and lift up people and organizations, then influence is the natural outcome.

Sometimes the desire to influence others can become a narcissistic obsession. Oscar Wilde depicts this idea in his novel, A Picture of Dorian Gray, in a conversation Dorian has with the hedonist Lord Henry. Henry is not obsessed with helping people or improving society, but with the act itself of influencing others.

There was something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence. No other activity was like it. To project one’s soul into some gracious form, and let it tarry there for a moment; to hear one’s own intellectual views echoed back to one with all the added music of passion and youth; to convey one’s temperament into another as though it were a subtle fluid or a strange perfume: there was a real joy in that- perhaps the most satisfying joy left to us in an age so limited and vulgar as our own, an age grossly carnal in its pleasures, and grossly common in its aims.

When leaders seek influence as an end in itself, they can become manipulators. A growing number of people feel they are being manipulated by the media, by politicians, by the company they work for, or by our institutions of Higher Education. People are so hungry for someone to represent them in taking on these powers of manipulation that a candidate’s chances for election can skyrocket overnight simply because he faced down a media representative. More than ever, we need leaders who wield a positive influence–not because they seek to influence–but because they seek to serve.

Like a pebble dropped in a pond creates waves of change, we need leaders who create waves of positive influence on our organizations and institutions.

Action Steps

Here are some suggestions you can take away from this post and possible action steps.

  1. Examine your motives. Your pursuit of influence may say more about your own insecurities than it does about your leadership.
  2. Beware what you celebrate. Don’t celebrate being an influencer; celebrate the fact that people are growing and your organization is improving.
  3. Check your methods. The attitude the seeks influence by any means eventually leads to unethical behavior and will destroy your leadership career.
  4. Think systemically. Men and women of great and ethical influence see influence not just as a leader-follower proposition, but as a complex network of forces, including organizational structure, policies, culture, reward systems, training, and so on.
  5. Ask God to step in. He is the One who can provide the influence beyond where your human capacity runs dry.

What do you think? What does it take beore you allow another person to influence you?


Photo by qimono, Licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal.

Portrait of Dr. Waddell

Dr. Greg Waddell is passionate about helping church leaders equip their people for ministry. He believes there is wild potential in every believer that begs to be released. He can help you develop and implement practical strategies for increasing the ministry capacity of your congregation.