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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 had the opportunity to build my own team. And, 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 in my current position. We have 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 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.

Influence is always based on trust. So, ultimately, that’s what we are discussing in this post. Building trust gains influence.

Here’s are 7 ways I attempt to gain influence with a team:

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 its a clear biblical principle. If I disrespect people it doesn’t build influence. It fosters control. People need to know they are valued members on the team and they will be treated fairly, professionally and with grace and truth.

Take risks on people and give 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 career 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 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 short-comings 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 member’s name 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.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 19 Comments

  • Duncan M. says:

    After reading this post, a thought crossed my mind: a great leader knows how to be part of the team, but at the same time knows how to motivate and guide each member. This is what I see in you, a person who is not afraid to admit he is wrong but is reliable and dependable. Trusting people can be hard, but having a role model makes it easy. This is indeed a great guide that all leaders need to consider.

  • christoph says:

    "treat people with respect" is a BIG ONE. In our Christian agency my direct leader got replaced by a less qualified person. Actually some of us disagree with that change. The new "leader" comes across as the new boss and tells at many occasion "how much better he is than the previous leader". That does not serve to respect him. I know come from the side of a tam member. But it is helpful that "leaders" listen to its members, especially when they're geographically seperated across our country.

  • — Not playing favorites
    — Not withholding the information
    — Demonstrating expertise
    — Not passing the buck for failures (and claiming credit for all successes)

  • @jbungcaras says:

    this is a great resource Ron. Am a follower of ur blog and ive been using it with my leadership role here in the Philippines and sharing it to other leaders as well. God blesses u more!

  • I have a completely volunteer "staff" at our church and have a question about recognizing and rewarding efforts. I have found in the past that if I recognize those who go above and beyond the minimum, then the others sometimes seem to get resentful. So, to remedy that I try to recognize everyone the same, but then it seems to foster an attitude of where it doesn't necessarily matter how much effort you give because you are "rewarded" the same. What do you suggest in a situation like this?

    • ronedmondson says:

      That's a great question Brad and I don't know that there is a perfect answer. Andy Stanley says not to be afraid to reward differently…fairness ended in the garden. I think that applies to volunteers also. I do understand the tension. I think one key is that the person rewarded not always be the "expected" volunteer. They are almost like staff, and at some point you see them differently…almost as if they are in your inner circle, part of the team, don't need continual recognition. Not that they aren't rewarded still, but it's a different kind of recognition. You help fuel their inner motivation. If they are volunteering just for recognition, then that's a bigger problem.

      Then you help these volunteers understand and participate in recognition. This morning in staff, I asked each person on our staff to think of one volunteer they are thankful for…who has NEVER been mentioned in staff circles before….someone new. Then I asked them to find a way to intentionally invest in that person. It could be a lunch, email or phone call. Recognition and reward doesn't always have to be the center of attention at a meeting. It could be a private thank you for what they are bringing to the team.

      Hope that triggers some thoughts.

  • Mary K says:

    "Most of what I’ve learned in leadership came from doing the wrong things first." Isn't that the way it usually works?

  • This post is one of my favorites from you Ron. Currently there is just me on staff with the secretary. I try to honor her in several ways but never alone. 🙂 Since we have volunteers leading our worship team and children's area, this can also be applied to them. Thanks for the good word.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thank you Bill. Yes, I think most of the principles (if not all) that apply to paid staff can apply to volunteers as well.

  • Eric

    I really like this post this morning. One of my favorites is being approachable. In our busyness to get things done we often become unapproachable to those around us that need us the most. It's important to remind ourselves of this.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thank you Eric. It's tough remaining approachable the bigger we become, but I think it's paramount to good leadership. That being said, I agree with Michael Hyatt's post today about saying "No". Being approachable doesn't mean we can be all things to all people.

  • Jonathan Pearson

    Being consistent is a big one, Ron. Getting one response one time and another response a different time with the same question/action is really difficult as a team member.