July 18, 2012

The Intentional Use of Influence

Welcome to this new column in the Adventist Review. The AR team has invited me to facilitate a global discussion intended to nurture, support, develop, and empower the various expressions of leadership in our churches, homes, and workplaces. For 35 years I have intentionally worked to improve my own leadership as a father, husband, neighbor, professor, administrator, and clergyperson. And while I still have a distance to go in becoming the person I envision, I promise that our discussion in this column will assist you (and me) in thinking about ways to serve more effectively and being more intentional in influencing men and women for God. My earnest prayer is that this new column will prove to be a blessing.

Three important lessons I have learned throughout the past 35 years will guide this new column: First, our leadership does not have to be perfect to be effective! Leadership, like righteousness, is an activity of faith. It is God who has to work in, through, and sometimes around our feeble service to achieve His purposes. The Bible is replete with examples that support this observation. The enemy of effective leadership is often an unspoken desire for perfect leadership.

Another lesson I’ve learned is that much leadership takes place outside of formal positions in the church structure. A tremendous amount of leadership inspiration simply “bubbles up” from the grass roots to advance our mission. In manifold places—the markets, office, home, classroom, and many more—believers exert influence to advance mission and impact lives for Jesus Christ and the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The third lesson is that influence is the key component in leadership. God seeks influencers for His kingdom. Influence is the capital that every believer possesses. Leadership is about nothing less than the intentional use of our influence for the purposes of God’s last-day mission. Ellen White recognized the power of our personal influence when she wrote, “By the atmosphere [influence] surrounding us, every person with whom we come in contact is consciously or unconsciously affected” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 339).

Leadership flows from the conscious use of our gift of influence in order to perform kingdom service. Our bank of influence consists of acquired and inherited talents—speech, education, time, treasure, mobility, relationships, history, lineage, and a score of other capabilities.

Influence is sanctified by our commitment, our character, and our competencies. If every person is endowed with a certain amount of influence, every person exerts leadership on someone, somewhere, somehow. This is unavoidably obvious.  So how do we influence?

True Success in Leadership
Some of my favorite leadership texts contained in Scripture include John 13:1-15, Mark 10:42-45, and Philippians 2:3-11. But outside of the Bible, my favorite leadership quotation comes from Ellen White. I have often said, in humor, that if this quote was closely followed, most of our academic departments that teach leadership would be out of business. Her statement precedes academic discussions about transformational leadership. It operationalizes in a stepwise progression how to become an influencer (leader) wherever we find ourselves. She wrote, “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people [i.e., influencing the company, the department, the teenager, the unbelieving spouse, the faculty, the neighbors, etc.]. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me’ ” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 143). I will unpack and illustrate these principles in my next column.

Today you are an influencer for God. Why not ask God to bless your leadership today and watch Him draw someone closer to His purposes through you? I assure you that nothing in life is nearly as satisfying!

Leslie N. Pollard, Ph.D., D.Min., M.B.A., serves as president of Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. This article was published July 19, 2012.