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Leading with Control OR Leading with Influence

Would you rather lead with influence or control?

Hopefully, the answer comes easily, but regardless of the answer it doesn’t always play out that way for many leaders.

Let me be honest. I can be a controlling person. It’s part of my character. My StrengthsFinders assessment says so. If no one is taking charge, I’ll take over the room.

Also, if we come to a four-way stop at the same time – as nice as I try to be – I won’t stall long for you to decide if you’re going.

If no leader is in the room, I’ll lead.

I think my team, however, would tell you I don’t normally perform as a controlling leader. Consequently, some may even wish I controlled more. Yet, it’s been a long process to discipline myself not to respond how I am naturally inclined to do.

Leaders, if you want to a healthy team environment, you must learn to control less and influence more.

The differences are measured in the results.

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

Here are a few examples:

In an organization where control is dominant:

  • The leader’s ideas win over the team’s ideas – every time.
  • Teams follow, 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 often feel unappreciated and often under-utilized – rather than empowered.
  • The organization is limited to the skills and abilities 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 continual endeavor.
  • Change is promoted through desire and motivation, not obligation.
  • The organization has the expanded resources through 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. Also, 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?

Likewise, have you been in an environment where influence is dominant?

Check out my leadership podcast where we discuss issues of leadership in a practical way. Plus, check out the other Lifeway Leadership Podcasts.

Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Jim Pemberton says:

    I often find tension between one leader on a team who is a controlling leader and another who is being intentional about leading with influence. Controlling leaders often don't perceive influence as leadership and will try to take control of an influential leader. This could be where they are leaders of different areas on a team, where a controlling leader perceives their influential boss as weak and becomes frustrated, or where a controlling leader perceives an influential subordinate leader as weak. This can be a difficult dynamic to work through in an organization.