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…let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.Matthew 5:16
Leadership by any definition involves influence. John Maxwell says it well: “Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.” Whether we’re trying to motivate others to achieve audacious goals and execute challenging missions or seeking to change behaviors, beliefs or opinions in order to facilitate much-needed change, we will only be as successful as our ability to influence. As the old adage suggests: you can drag a horse to water, but you cannot force it to drink. We must inspire the horse to do that for itself.
More than anyone who has ever lived, Jesus modeled a leadership style based on influence. Rather than show up as a warrior or political ruler, roles with authority and power to impress and coerce others into action, He came instead as a poor carpenter’s son; and it was His character, actions, and words that inspired the disciples (and many others) to leave everything and follow him. His kindness to the outcast Samaritan woman visiting the well alone in the heat of the day caused many people to leave the town to meet Jesus and discover that He was “indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). As He was on His way to heal Jairus’ daughter, the woman who had been suffering with stigmatizing bleeding for many years hauled her broken body through the dust, heat, and crowds, believing that if she could simply touch the hem of His garment she would be healed. Ultimately, Jesus’ willingness to sacrifice Himself to entirely redeem humankind motivated the faith of generations of followers through the ages, some of whom have even faced martyrdom themselves.
As a leader in the workplace, I am sure you have examples of influence getting results where direct instruction has failed. For years, I had the privilege to manage large teams and corporate functions and came to understand that the best work was always produced by teams who had caught the vision for the organization or a project and did not need to be given detailed instructions, or micromanaged, to be successful. Influence by its nature provides room for creativity to flourish, for teammates to discover – through trial and error – where their true capabilities lie and for their confidence to rise as they dig deep to conquer challenges. Influence is an essential catalyst for growth.
From time to time, many of us ask, “How do I increase my influence, or leadership? Is God asking me to do so?”
First, it’s biblical to ask for an increase in our responsibilities and therefore, by the same token, our ability to influence others. In 1 Chronicles 4:10, we hear about a man named Jabez who was “more honorable than any of his brothers” and is notable for asking God, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory…” We don’t know much more about Jabez other than we learn his story turns out well for “God granted him his request.” Jabez’s bold example is not only encouraging, but it also indicates God is willing to increase our leadership and influence and, if we specifically ask Him for expansion in these areas, He wants to answer with a resounding “Yes!”
However (and this is a big “however”), we need to be ready to handle the additional responsibility when it is given to us, and we also need to be asking for more with the right motives in mind. As followers of Jesus, we are called to make an impact on the whole world; to be salt and light “….so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5: 16). Our influence is to be used bring glory to Him, rather than ourselves. As our leadership expands, we touch the lives of so many more people and our influence will absolutely have an increased impact. It is our responsibility to make sure it is for the better! Be careful what you pray, since with great power comes great responsibility.
It’s easy to forget how under the microscope we are as leaders. Several years ago, I made the mistake of letting my frustration at a difficult situation boil over in a staff meeting. One of my peers was hemorrhaging staff due to her poor management style. Within a matter of weeks, we had lost several critical and high-performing teammates who simply could not deal with her anymore. Despite my attempts to coach and assist, my peer had assured me that her management style was not the issue. In her view, these leaders were simply too “green” for an executive environment. Given my ultimate responsibility for talent retention, I was increasingly at a loss and my comments in this one staff meeting became unprofessional. Within weeks, I realized that I had unintentionally created a greater issue as my direct reports started to demonstrate an increased lack of respect for my peer. When I sought to address this issue, my own comments came back to haunt me, and I had to go into damage-control mode. Not my finest hour as a leader, or as a follower of Jesus.
So how do we influence others and bring God glory in the workplace? Over time, I’ve come to realize that it comes down to one simple word that most people don’t associate with the workplace: LOVE. God asks me to LOVE people wherever I am and whatever I am doing, including – or maybe especially (where love is so often lacking) – at work. How I show up and how others feel as I lead them is the real test of my influence and whether I am honoring the trust God placed in me when He gave me people to lead. A recent writer in the Harvard Business Review suggested that we positively inspire our teams and colleagues when we encourage and build others up (joy), seek to minimize unhealthy conflicts (peace), listen to others without interrupting (patience), treat others with respect (kindness), act with integrity (goodness), demonstrate loyalty (faithfulness), treat people fairly (gentleness), model self-care (self-control), and lead by example (sacrificial LOVE) in every way. If we are to bring God glory at work or anywhere for that matter, the key is surrendering to living a life rooted in Jesus, partnering with Him so that we grow to be more like Him, every single day. Then, just like Jesus, our leadership and our influence will be life-changing, maybe even world-changing.
Ask for more opportunities to lead and influence the world for Jesus but, as you do so, ask Him to increase your capacity to LOVE others well because you’re going to need it! In the words of some of the greatest musicians of all time, “Love is all you need.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Emma is the Founder and Principal of Swallowtail Group and a global business executive known for her entrepreneurship, strong empathetic leadership style, courage and skill in taking on messy challenges. Emma has a proven track record in complex organizational transformations and a natural talent for pulling together high value creation teams. Additionally, Emma’s passion for organizational design, psychology, and development led her to pioneer mentoring and leadership development initiatives for fellow executives and senior managers throughout her career. Emma has a growing reputation as a solid and passionate advocate on mental health issues that impact the workforce, especially at executive leadership levels.
Emma is very active in the community, both nationally and locally. Recently, Emma was appointed to the Advisory Board of the Center for Government Contracting at George Mason University, serving as a thought leader on industry matters. Emma serves actively on the Board of 4word, a national, faith-based non-profit that supports women in the marketplace in growing with confidence to meet their full potential. Previously Emma served as the President of the Board of Trustees of an influential non-profit in Northern Virginia for six years and worked for several years as an ambassador for two global non-profits providing micro-financing for women in developing nations and addressing human trafficking issues.
Outside of work, Emma is a devoted wife and mom to two young children and an active member of Holy Trinity Church, McLean. Her hobbies include a passion for travel, learning about great food and wine, music (she is a classically trained soprano), movies, and reading.