Friendly Reminder: Accept Influence

By Andy Stanton-Henry

One of the common definitions of leadership is the ability to influence others. John Maxwell famously says: “Leadership is influence — nothing more, nothing less.” It’s not a bad definition. We see the world as it is, envision the world as it could be, and seek to reduce that tragic gap. If we don’t seek to influence people and organizations into new ways of living and loving, why would we bother with the effort of leadership?

These days, there are a lot of people striving to influence others. They don’t go by “leader”; they are known as “influencers.” Social media is full of influencers. They are using their influence to inspire us to buy products, adapt new lifestyles, join communities, etc.

The world is full of influencers. I hope they use their powers for good. But what’s rare these days are folks prepared to be influenced. That’s unfortunate, because it turns out that being influenced is an essential skill for both life and leadership.

Have you heard of the Gottman Love Labs? Drs. John and Julie Gottman set up the Relationship Research Institute at the University of Washington, where they did an extensive study of various patterns from married couples, over the course of forty years. Through their observations, they were able to predict with 91% accuracy which couples were going to have a lasting relationship (or not), after only five minutes.

In response to the “four horsemen” that predict the failure of a relationship, the Gottmans developed seven principles for developing lasting relationships. One of those principles involves the practice of learning to “accept influence.” This was particularly effective when men/husbands, who were socialized to be “leaders” of the family, were willing to be influenced by their spouse. Accepting influence is a means of sharing power, showing respect, exercising mutuality, and ultimately nurturing a lasting relationship.

What’s true for personal relationships is true for spiritual leadership. Lasting ministry partnerships require some level of mutual influence. There are, of course, times of staying the course and not falling into what Friedman called “a failure of nerve.” But any healthy relationship requires the willingness to both influence and be influenced.

In my framework of open and relational theology, even God is willing to be influenced. God is sovereign and free and wise, but also vulnerable and open and trusting. We listen to God and God listens to us. We seek to know God’s desires and God welcomes our dreams. God pleads with us and we petition in prayer. God accepts influence…So should spiritual leaders.

In the next couple weeks, be open to accepting influence. Hear someone out. Let someone change your mind. Take a request or a critique seriously. Concede a point from someone you don’t normally agree with. Prioritize the perspective of someone who is often ignored or marginalized.

When we accept influence from others, some special things might happen. We may actually become more influential because of a new bond of trust was made. We may help promote lasting relationships in our congregation or organization (in a time when division and divorce are the norm). And we may get to experience the influence of the Holy Spirit, who is known to influence us through the people around us.