John Maxwell says leadership is influence. If that’s true, then how does a leader develop influence with the people he or she leads? I have learned a few ways I best gain influence with teams I attempt to lead.
I have had the opportunity to build my own team. Frankly, that’s easier than to inherit a team I am supposed to lead. I’ve done that also, but developing influence in either setting requires an intentional effort on the part of the leader. Influence is never gained simply by holding a position. (That’s myth number one in my book The Mythical Leader.)
I’ll never forget the first week as pastor in a traditional church. We had a large staff and it seemed everyone was on edge around me. It was awkward. I’m a pretty easy-going guy. I can appear intense at times, because I’m very driven, but I genuinely like people. My door is always open, but it was tense. Eerily tense in fact. The church had experienced a couple difficult years and they were obviously resistant to give immediate trust. I knew I would have to earn it.
Again, if John Maxwell is correct and leadership is influence – and he certainly is accurate at some level – I knew I had to gain influence with my team. I can’t lead people if I can’t influence them.
Since influence is always based on trust, ultimately, that was my goal. The two go together. Building trust gains influence.
7 ways I attempt to gain influence with teams I lead:
Treat people with respect.
I expect to be respected as a leader. Most leaders have that expectation. I know, however, I can’t demand or even expect respect without displaying it. Mutual respect is absolutely necessary on a healthy team, and it’s a clear biblical principle. If I disrespect people, it doesn’t build influence. It fosters control. People need to know they are valued members of the team, and they will be treated fairly, professionally, and with grace and truth.
Take risks on people and give them opportunities to fail or succeed.
I place tremendous faith in people. I’m naive about it. I’ve been burned many times and putting faith in people can be messy, but it’s one of the best ways to gain influence with them.
I love to recruit people who start their ministry careers with us. If a team member comes to me with a dream, I’ll try to help them attain it. The risk is almost always worth the return. People need to know they are free to explore even if it’s into unknown territory. More importantly, they need to know you’ll back them up if it doesn’t work. Team members need to be able to learn from mistakes and success and continue to grow and develop.
Recognize and reward efforts.
I’m not afraid to single out exceptional work for individual recognition. Texting or emailing everyone to compliment one should not be forbidden. Yes, you may miss someone – and I try to discipline myself to look broadly for areas to applaud, but individuals need recognition just as the collective team does. What I’ve learned is a culture which recognizes the achievements of others is contagious. As you do, so will the team.
Allow the team to know me personally.
This is huge. I’m very transparent. In fact, I have been with the entire church. I try to be clear about my weaknesses and own my mistakes. I’m also not afraid to be the brunt of the jokes.
The fact is I miss details. I see only the big picture sometimes. I need people around me who can cover up for my shortcomings and ground me. The only way they can do this is if I let them see where I am weak. They need to know they serve a role on our team and make me and the team better.
Be responsive and approachable.
Responsiveness is a value to me as a leader, but I return texts, phone calls, and emails to our team quicker than any others. It’s part of building trust which leads to influence. They can get in touch with me and on my schedule before anyone other than my family. I keep the door open when I’m in the office and welcome walk-ins. I try not to make them wait long for an answer and follow through on requests.
Be consistent and reliable.
I am not perfect at this. Again, I don’t do details well, so I have to discipline myself in this area. I keep lots of lists so I don’t forget things I’ve committed to do. I have an Evernote folder with different team members’ names in it. It helps me keep up with things relative to them specifically. I want to always do what I commit to do, so I don’t make many promises. If I tell a team member I’ll do something. I make it a priority in my schedule until it’s accomplished.
Help others achieve personal success.
I love to learn a team member’s goals and help them achieve it. Numerous times we have had a staff member who felt God was leading them to another position – one we couldn’t accommodate at our church. I have served as a sounding board for them, a personal reference for a new job, and coached them through the interview process. I even forward jobs to them when I know they are looking. It’s not that I want to get rid of them, but I love what Bob Buford, founder of Leadership Network was known to say, “My fruit grows on other people’s trees.” Plus, I know helping someone succeed, even if it means leaving, builds influence with them and the rest of our team.
I think it’s vital to a healthy team that the leader be continually conscious of his or her need for influence and ways to improve upon it. Most of what I’ve learned in leadership came from doing the wrong things first.
Once again, I’m not perfect, and this is not an attempt to brag about my performance. As with all my posts, I’m trying to be helpful in developing good leadership. I continue to ask my team how I can improve.
With any team, I probably have influence with some of our team more than others. It’s always a work in progress – always.
You can also learn more about Ron, his coaching, and other resources at his website: Ron Edmondson – Leadership, Church, and Culture