Your Philosophy of Leadership: The essence of leading well

In the blog post titled, “How and where will you focus your effort,” I suggested that leadership can be distilled down to two concepts, without which you cannot lead: influence and relationship.  Of the many books I have read on leadership the one that addressed my conviction about influence and relationship the best was Relational Leadership by Walter Wright (2000).  Wright, executive director of the outstanding Max De Pree Center for Leadership (, defines leadership as “A relationship in which one person seeks to influence the thoughts, behaviors, beliefs or values of another person.” (p. 2) Even though this definition implies intentionality, influence frequently happens without clear intention, but hopefully for good.

The origin of the word influence goes back to the 14th century word influere—to flow in—from in + fluere (to flow).  I like this picture of flowing into another, perhaps like wind in a sail or a musical instrument or the Holy Spirit flowing into the disciples at Pentecost.  It can be very pleasant when the content of the flow is good, but very unpleasant when the content is bad.

Of the various ways to influence for good, one must be considered above all others.  It would not take too much effort to build the case that the best influence one can flow into another is through prayer.  As much as we would like to think that our motives for influence are good, even our best efforts have flaws (see 1 Cor 4:4).  God is able to apply our prayers through His filter of what is genuinely good influence.  The prophet Samuel understood the priority of prayer and exercised it as a major part of his leadership influence (1 Sam 12:23).  How are you doing in your influence through prayer?  Just add up the time you invest in prayer for those you lead.

We exert influence in two ways: through our position and our person. Our position, when understood as a privilege, can bless, guide, resource, protect and much more.  However, when we are spread too thin, overcommitted, lacking sleep and unhealthy we can often miss influencing for good.  What signs (yellow light) have you developed to indicate that your good positional influence is slipping?  Our influence as a person has everything to do about the next word, relationship.

Relationship is the other essential for leading well.  We normally think about leadership as a relationship with those we supervise.  These are the people entrusted to our responsibility.  We rightly focus on relating to these people by cultivating trust and confidence.  One’s character and credibility are in direct proportion with relational influence.

Along with relating to those we lead, more and more I see the need for relating to those who lead us.  This “leading up” requires a different relational skill set.  It is not uncommon to have a supervisor who does not fully understand your arena of responsibility or the opportunities for growth.  Intentionally building trust to influence your supervisor is both appropriate and necessary for the good of the organization.  Where and how are you able to influence your supervisor so she or he can better lead you?  Is prayer part of the way you are intentionally influencing the development of your supervisor?

To lead well one must grow in ability to relate well.  Don’t minimize the importance of relational influence!

Next Blog: Leading from strength and protecting weakness.


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