4 min read

At the heart of how I define leadership is change. All leadership is about being an agent of change. While organizations need someone to maintain a smooth running operation, by itself this is not leadership.

Leaders see problems and want to solve them. They see possibilities and want to achieve them. They see wrongs and want to make them right. They see opportunities and want to take advantage of them. They see threats and want to avoid them. They see swamps of corruption and want to drain them. Leadership is always about change.

One problem, however, that leaders run into is the important step of persuasion that must occur between idea and execution. This is where many leaders fail. They get ideas about how things could be better. They see it in their mind. They get excited and see no reason anyone should object to their idea. They plunge ahead.

Then these leaders run into the POP: the problem of persuasion. Some like to call it gaining “buy-in.” If we leave this crucial step out of our planning, our change project is doomed from the start.

Why? Because we cannot do it alone. We need a team of others committed to achieving the same objectives, working together to pull their resources and capabilities, in a coordinated effort. Without this, our ideas are like the morning dew, they quickly evaporate into the hot rays of reality.

So what do we know about the art of persuasion? Let’s start with a definition.
There are three types of influence a leader can have on others: compliance, internalization, and identification.


The first type, compliance, is not persuasion at all. Anyone with enough power can make people do what they want them to do. And many people in leadership positions around the world depend solely on this type of influence. The world is filled with tyrants of all shapes and sizes.

The problem with compliance is that it lasts only as long as the leader possesses and exerts his or her power of coercion upon the people.

We could have a long discussion about the pros and cons of coercive power but let me say I believe our dependence and admiration for this type of “leadership” is a cause behind many of the world’s ills. I also see the desire for this type of leadership growing in our culture rather than waning.

Many in our midst would love to see the eradication of thought diversity to gain a compliant populace. Look at the accolades pronounced by the mainstream media over the “beauty” and “coordination” of the North Korean cheerleaders, with no mention of the 21 cheerleaders who in 2006 were sent to prison camps for discussing their trip to South Korea after they returned home. No mention was made of the cookie cutter requirements for entry into the cheerleader team (for example, all cheerleaders had to be at least 163 cm. tall and have round faces).

For those of us who believe there is value in freedom and diversity of thought, we must go deeper than compliance.

Internalization and Identification

Such leaders in this latter category seek internalization and identification. Persuasion only occurs when these have been achieved.

Internalization happens when someone has accepted a new idea as valid, adopts it, and works toward making it a reality.

Identification is a step beyond internalization where the individual sees himself or herself as owning the idea. It becomes their idea and not just the idea of the leader.

The main tactic for achieving these levels of influence is dialogue. Dialogue assumes there is a two-way channel of communication. The leader is interested not just in expressing his or her ideas, but also in the ideas of those he or she is trying to persuade. True persuasion occurs when we find those places where our ideas intersect with the values and aspirations of those we are trying to influence.

This takes time, patience, and communication skill. If we are to be successful as agents of change, as leaders, then we must include this stage in everything we do.

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.


Photo: Dialogue in the Dusk by Tilman Heardle, January 9, 2013. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.