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Leading with Control Versus Leading with Influence

Let me be honest. I can be a controlling person. It’s part of my character. I know that. I test that way with StrengthsFinders. If no one is taking charge, I’ll take over the room. (And, not because I’m extroverted. I’m not.) If we both come to a four-way stop at the same time – as nice as I try to be and as much as I love others – I won’t stall long for you to decide if you’re going. It’s just how I’m wired. If the leader isn’t in the room, I’ll lead. 

I think my team, however – or at least I hope – would tell you I don’t perform as a controlling leader. Some may even wish I controlled more. It’s been a long process to discipline myself not to respond how I am naturally inclined to do.

Leaders, if you want to to have a healthy team environment, you must learn to control less and influence more. The differences are measured in the results of creating a healthy team.

I have learned though that successful leaders understand the difference in leading with influence and leading with control.

Here’s what I mean by the results of controlling versus influence:

In an organization where control is dominant:

  • The leader’s ideas win over the team’s ideas – every time.
  • The team follows, but only out of necessity (for a paycheck) – not willingly.
  • Change happens through fear and intimidation – not motivation.
  • People are managed closely – rather than led.
  • Team members feel unappreciated and often under-utilized – rather than empowered.
  • The organization is limited to the skills and ability of the controlling leader – not the strength of a team.
  • Passion is weak – burnout is common.


In an organization where influence is dominant:

  • The ultimate goal is what’s best for the organization, not an individual.
  • Team spirit develops as relationships and trust grow.
  • Willing followers, and other leaders, are attracted to the team. 
  • Leadership recruitment and development is a continued endeavor.
  • Change is promoted through desire and motivation, not obligation.
  • The organization has the expanded resources of a team of unique individuals.
  • People feel empowered and appreciated.

Leaders, take your pick – control or influence. You can’t have it both ways. One will always be dominant. Granted, I could write a whole blog post (and, I have) on the messiness of leading by influence. There will often be confusion, lack of clarity, and misunderstandings. It comes when all the rules aren’t clearly defined. This, however, is a tension to be managed not a problem to be solved. (I think Andy Stanley said that first.)

When it comes to creating organizational health – influence will always trump control. Every time. 

Have you ever been or worked for a controlling leader?

Have you been in an environment where influence is dominant?

Which did you prefer?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • Peggy says:

    Control shows selfishness and insecurity. Leading with influence lays the foundation for the Fruits of the Spirit to reign in our work.

  • Drew says:

    … and… part 3!

    Our organization in India – ASSI – has a saying: “Control limits, but Influence grows”. Building on our topic last month (Leadership by multiplying), we must recognize that a movement can be hindered or completely stopped if leaders try to “control” things. We must fight against such attitudes, thinking, and behaviors. Study the chart that is below. Do you, as a leader, have any of these “controlling” tendencies?

    Control Influence
    Giving Orders Giving Vision
    Expecting Compliance Expecting Competency
    Information is guarded Information is shared
    Controlling the leadership base Expecting the leadership base to broaden
    Trying to change others Trying to change myself
    Blaming others when things go wrongAccepting responsibility when things go wrong
    Taking credit when things go right Sharing credit and thanking others
    Complaining Taking the initiative and acting
    Focus on tasks and timelines Focus on the Big Picture
    Focus on Titles and Positions Focus on serving
    Focus on education and knowledge Focus on the heart
    Focus on process and procedures Focus on people
    Authority resides at the top Authority is shared
    Focus on organization and structure Focus on relationships

    Questions for Reflection . . .
    •Who has been or is now my mentor? Am I mentoring others?
    •What are the core values that drive me?
    •Do I believe God? Do I believe that Jehovah is always capable of performing the amazing and miraculous?
    •Am I obeying the commands in Joshua 1:8?
    •How do I measure up on the Control versus Influence scale?

  • Drew says:

    Part 2

    2. Joshua’s influence grew because of his relationship with God. Look at Joshua 1:1-9, Joshua 3:7, and Joshua 5:13-15. What do these passages tell us about the relationship that Joshua had with the Lord?
    •As God was with Moses, so He would be with Joshua. (Joshua 1:5)
    •God commanded Joshua to spend time every day reading and meditating on His Word. God promised that if Joshua was faithful and obeyed this command, he would be successful as the new leader of the nation of Israel. (Joshua 1:7-8)
    •God promised to be with Joshua at all times. As a result, Joshua would be strong and courageous. (Joshua 1:5,9)
    •God promised to “exalt Joshua” so that the nation of Israel would know that God was with him. (Joshua 3:7)
    •Just as Moses talked to the Lord face-to-face, Joshua enjoyed the same kind of relationship. (Joshua 1: 1-9, Joshua 5:13-15)
    3. Joshua’s influence grew because he believed God. Joshua was a man of faith – demonstrated by his actions. (Numbers 14:6-9, Joshua 1:10-15, Joshua 3:5)
    •As a young man, Joshua believed that God would miraculously give the nation of Israel the land. He believed God even when it was not popular or a “majority” opinion. Ten out of twelve spies believed that Canaan could not be defeated because it was inhabited by giants, and had walled cities that could not be conquered. In the face of opposition and hostility, Joshua believed God. (Numbers 14:6-9)
    •Later, after he was commissioned by both Moses and by God himself, Joshua did not hesitate. He passed on God’s orders to all the people, fully believing that God would do what he promised. (Joshua 1:10-15)
    •Joshua was an eye witness to all the Exodus miracles. Joshua saw the presence of God when Moses received the commandments. Joshua believed that Jehovah Elohim was all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present. He expected God to perform the amazing and miraculous. (Joshua 3:5)
    4. Joshua’s influence grew because he communicated the vision. (Joshua 1:10-18)
    Have you ever had trouble getting people to do what you want them to do – even if these people “work for you”? Sometimes, it is a question of vision – we have not invested the time to tell people the “why” and/or the Big Picture. Most people want to be challenged; they want to do something significant. But leadership is required to give them a compelling vision. If you consider yourself a leader, this is your job.
    5. Joshua’s influence grew because he focused on himself, and did not try to control others. (Joshua 24:15)
    Mahatma Gandhi once said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” People really love to follow a leader that “walks the walk”. At the same time, we all have a choice in life, and do not appreciate a dictator-type leader. Joshua modeled this aspect perfectly in Joshua 24:15. He communicated the standard of behavior that he expected, and then said “choose for yourselves”. He knew that he could not control what everyone else would do. Instead, he placed the primary focus on himself and his family – “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD”.

  • Drew Hildenbrand says:

    Here's an article written by a mentor of mine. He is president of a Discipleship ministry that serves northern India.
    He is doing on person per month as part of the monthly newsletter.

    2012 is a Presidential election year here in the US. There will be a lot of debating and talk, then more debating and more talk. Some of that debating and talk will actually be ok, but most of it will be just “noise”. A significant topic of discussion in every presidential election year is the subject of Leadership. Last month we looked at Paul as an example of leadership by multiplication. This month, we’ll examine Influence as a leadership trait, using Joshua as our Biblical example.

    Joshua – Influence
    •The true measure of leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less.
    The Leadership trait in the Scriptures:
    "If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." Joshua 24:15

    1. Joshua’s influence grew because of his relationship with Moses. (Exodus 17: 9-14, Exodus 33:11, Numbers 27:18-23, Deut 31: 1-8, Deut 34:9) Joshua did not learn to be a leader overnight. He had a mentor. He followed and obeyed Moses from an early age. Exodus 17:10 states this very clearly – Joshua did as Moses told him. The relationship between Moses and Joshua is a perfect one to emulate if you are mentoring someone. Look at Numbers 27:18-23 and Deut 3:28. What do these passages teach us about mentoring?
    •Moses listened to God first, and obeyed God first. After that, he could teach others.
    •Moses “put some of his authority on him”. Moses had been hand-picked by God to lead the nation of Israel. Moses was not “selfish” with this power and authority, but shared it with Joshua.
    •Moses wanted Israel to start looking at Joshua as a source of authority.
    •Moses laid his hands on Joshua, and commissioned him.
    •Moses “charged, encouraged, and strengthened” Joshua.

  • Laurinda says:

    I think when we are thrust into leadership when unprepared, the first reaction is to control everything. The best test of leadership is to lead outside of the job (serve as chair of a church committee) and see if the people stay. that was a wake up call for me.

  • Kyle Reed says:

    You can spot these two leaders from a mile away. I have been around both, and agree with you on the characteristics. And yes, leading with influence is so much more powerful and healthy

  • Jason says:

    "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken." Ecclesiastes 4.9

    …To your point about expanded resources of a team, in the long run we can bring exponential growth to our individual utility when we humble ourselves and labor as a team.

  • spoco says:

    God's providence is alive in the timing of this post.

    I am currently a middle manager in an organization where there is almost complete mutiny going on among those around me. Our VP is very controlling, and every point you listed among controlling leaders is evident, and it has killed our teamwork, morale and motivation. I have tried to keep the peace for months but a direct personal attack combined with my sinful nature – I have recently been on the bandwagon against our VP. I thought a while on it, prayed about it, and realized that we're all sinners, and sinners sin.

    This morning my VP let me know that it was getting to them. They are very aware of the desire of some on our team to completely get rid of them as a leader. They asked me what I thought they could do. This was the first time in three years of working under this person that my advice on anything had ever been sought. And I had read this article this morning. Hopefully your words will be taken to heart and things will get better around here.

  • Yes! I have worked for a controlling leader. I think their inferiority complex and their insecurity makes them act in such a style. Consequence – It brings greater harm to the team.