This is the eighth post of ten in my series of advice for younger leaders. Here's the working list:
9. Be part of your own church.
10. Don't let people need you too much.
Advice #8: Influence.
I don't read John Maxwell much anymore, but when I was a young leader I read several of his books. A quote of his that has stayed with me through the years is "leadership is influence." I still come back to that basic definition of leadership most everyday. If I am truly leading someone, then I have influence over their decisions, actions and beliefs.
As we have already seen in this series, influence is a tricky thing. I see two extreme reactions emerge as people struggle with the inherit messiness of being an influencer. All leaders have mixed motives. Some of us want to lead (influence others) because we love to be in charge. There are lots of different reasons why we love to be in charge, but it normally comes down to believing that we can do a better job of leading than whoever is currently leading (or not leading). Many young leaders fall into this category. Without a doubt, this is what motivated me to be a leader/influencer in my early years. I don't want to say that this motivation is necessarily wrong. Leaders need to reinvent. Most great leaders lead from some sort of holy discontent with the status quo. The problem comes when, after years of leading, you realize that while you may be addressing the things you thought were "wrong" you are only creating other messes in other areas. In essence, you will see that you may not be a much better leader than the people you used to criticize.
This can bring about the second extreme response I notice in people. Some very capable influencers make the choice to stop leading because of their awareness of their own inadequacies. This is a hurdle that must be crossed. If you used to be a leader, but are not one now that may mean that you are ignoring a gift embedded into you by the Holy Spirit. I like the way that the ESV version of the Bible translates Paul in Romans 12. It says, "Let him who leads do so with zeal." Leaders need to be free to be zealous - not hiding in the corners.
It seems to me that many of the best leaders have gone through a journey that looks something like this:
1. A holy discontent with the status quo.
2. A decision to do something heroic about it.
3. An aggressive initiative to lead others to 1.) see the problem and 2.) fix it.
4. A season of relative success.
5. A massive failure. (either to accomplish #3 or another failure while accomplishing #3)
6. An exodus from leadership.
7. A time of isolation and healing.
8. An (often reluctant) acceptance of a new leadership initiative.
9. Serving from a place of brokenness/humility with more of a focus on God and people than the problems of the status quo.
This has been my personal journey anyway. I have not been at it long enough to know if there are other stages past #9. I have seen others in my posit . ion start the entire process over again, as if it were a never ending circle where #9 leads back to #1. I hope it doesn't work that way. I have seen people go through the entire process only to forget the lessons learned from their failures. At this point in my life, I only follow level 9 leaders. That's why I came to VCC - it's full of them.
It is also difficult to know if the process can be avoided at all. I would love for the younger leaders in my life to go straight from #1 to #9, but I have a hunch it doesn't work that way. Maybe the key is simply being aware - instead of dreaming about the day when you will be a great dynamic leader try to dream about a day when you will be utterly broken and humble.
Regardless of where you are in the process, if you are a leader you are influencing people. Make sure to influence a few people deeply. Have a few key followers who have special access to your life and schedule. From there, you will notice ripples of influence. The more you lead, the more you will influence people you are not in relationship with as well. This is a good thing, but only if you remember that your first priority as a leader is to influence your true "disciples."
I started blogging almost ten years ago before anyone even knew what a blog even was. I started for one primary reason - so that I could expand my influence on anyone who might allow me into their life. It seemed like a free and easy way to lead people toward the Kingdom. Blogging has been an odd and somewhat tortuous journey for an introvert. Blogging, like a toppling domino, has given way to Facebook and Twitter. These are all activities that, were I not a leader, I would resist. Because I am a missionary in an increasingly cyber-based culture who wants to influence people to see the reality of the Kingdom, I embrace these things. That's also why I now write books. If someone wants to read the things that are important to me, I'd like them to do so. Ultimately, this is also why I have a job speaking to 6,000 people each weekend when I personally prefer having church in my living room. I have accepted the calling to be an influencer.
I firmly believe that those things are the result of trying to influence relationally one person at a time in my own little world. I certainly didn't set out to work at a mega church, have a billion Facebook friends or write a novel.
So, if people want to follow you, let them. That means you are a leader. Positions matter very little in leadership. Influence is what matters. Lead with zeal, but learn to lead humbly from your failures more than from your successes. Use what the culture gives you to influence people toward the Kingdom...just be careful to not believe your own press when it comes. But, lead with zeal for God's sake. The reality is that you can become the sort of person who, by your very nature and presence, will nudge people toward a God who loves them. You can influence for God...and that's a pretty cool gig.