where influence comes from
Lots of people aspire to leadership. Some just want to be in charge. Others just want to get something done.
I want to get something done too. I dream of a better world, more loving neighborhoods, more ethical businesses, more just political systems. But in the spirit of true confessions, I’ve really never aspired to a formal leadership role. I’ve never felt compelled to be in charge. And yet most people will tell you I’ve been leading since I was in High School.
How does that happen? How do you lead when you’re not even trying to be in charge? How do you make this world a better place when you’re just an average man or woman who wants to make difference?
Author John Maxwell has said that in today’s world leadership is all about influence. He who has the influence, has the leadership. I think he’s right, and it’s especial true among millennials who care very little about titles, reputations, or diplomas. They want to know who you are and what you have to offer, not what your title is or what you’ve done.
So if leadership is about influence, where does influence come from? How do you become more influential? Leadership guru Bobby Clinton points to 4 sources, or bases of authority that give people influence.
The first basis of influence is Positional Authority. Positional authority is the authority conferred on you through the position you fill. For many of us, positional authority is the first thing we think of when we hear the word leadership, and unfortunately it’s often not a positive association.
Is positional authority legitimate leadership? Absolutely. Every society confers authority on people through roles and those roles can help bring focus, organizational clarity, and productivity.
But here’s what I’ve observed over the past 40 years: The more you rely on positional authority as a legitimate means of authority, the more illegitimate your influence will become in the eyes of those you serve. If you depend on your position to get things done, you will eventually lose the hearts of those you lead.
The 2nd basis of influence comes through Relational Authority. Relational authority is the influence we have in people’s lives through the relationships we have with them. People respond to us because they know we care about them and because they trust us.
It’s been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. But when people know that you genuinely care, that you have their best interest at heart and that you are a person of character, they will follow your lead.
When I think of the people who have had relational authority in my life, they have been people who listen deeply, who are honest, trustworthy, and who have had my back even when it may have cost them. If you want to grow in influence, be that kind of person, and you will rarely need to exercise positional authority even if you have it.
The 3rd basis of influence is Technical Authority. Technical authority is the authority you have because of the knowledge and/or skills you’ve developed. You have the ability to influence others because you have something they want. This form of influence has little to do with your position or with your relationships; it has everything to do with your competence.
But operating solely out of technical authority will typically limit your influence to a very narrow band of a person’s life. That is especially true in a wired world where so much information is so readily available. In this Google age, you will almost always need to add value to your compentency through relationship or through …
Spiritual Authority. Spiritual authority is the influence we have in people’s lives through the intimacy of our relationship with God. It flows out of our deep communion with the Divine and it’s infectous. The prophets spoke of “deep calling out to deep.” Spiritual authority comes when something deep within us connects to the deep longing in others.
Perhaps no other person in human history has had more influence than a position-less carpenter from Galilee. Jesus lingered long with God. He went for walks with God. He sat on top of mountains and beside lakes to pray. And because he lived in the presence of God he was able to say, “I only do what I see the father doing, and I only say what I hear him saying.”
People listen to people who listen to God. People follow those who are in-tune with the Divine and who are sensitive to God’s purposes and ways.
My wife is one of my heroes. She is sweet and gentle, but she has authority in my life because I know how deep her relationship with God runs and how sensitive she is to the movements of God. I also know how much she cares about me, and the combination of spiritual authority and relational authority is perhaps the most moving of all.
As just implied, these 4 sources of influence usually work in harmony with one another. The more integrated they are, the more holistically we lead. And the more holistically we lead, the greater influence we will have.
What type of influence do you tend to lead with? Are you relying on it to the exclusion of other means of influence?
If you are in positional authority, may you lead with grace and humility. And with or without a formal role, may your influence grow in goodness and may this world be a better place because of your presence in it.