This article was written by Frank Viola and was published in his exclusive Unfiltered update list which goes out every week to his email subscribers. If you enjoy this update, you can get these Unfiltered updates by signing up here. It’s FREE.
In our leadership-frenzied Christian culture, I’ve opted for a different label for leadership.
That label is influence.
Despite the unhealthy love affair that countless Christians have with “leadership” and being “a leader,” the truth is, if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, you’re an influencer.
Your influence may be large or small, it may be good or bad, but it exists.
In this UNFILTERED update, I want to address two types of influencers in the body of Christ. And I’d like to do so by using an experience I had many years ago with two very different kinds of leaders.
At the time, both had considerable influence. But in terms of their character and leadership-style, they were light years apart. And so each influencer represents two very different kinds of leadership with drastically different results.
The first leader was a gifted speaker and writer. He held a PhD in charm. And when he was at the top of his game, he was unparalleled in articulating certain topics about which he was passionate.
As with most gifted communicators, whenever he spoke in public, one part of the audience would descend into a “take his head off” feeding frenzy, while others would hardly squirm, never once reaching for their smart phones.
However, this influencer suffered from a piercing narcissism to which he was completely blind. And as with most narcissistic types, he became easily jealous of others who were as gifted – or more gifted — than he.
Even during his public talks, his megalomania would betray itself as he’d wax eloquent about himself and his accomplishments.
Despite his outward warmness, he viewed other mortals as projects to advance his own ministry rather than people made in God’s image. He had no capacity to accept advice from others, even when it would have spared him lots of failure and frustration.
While he would speak compellingly about brokenness and humility, he was routinely threatened by the popularity of others. Notoriously vain and monstrously insecure, he’d often engage in petty back-biting, school-yard belittling, and even slander, all to compensate for his insecurities. He’d routinely bad mouth others just to work off his own demons.
These character defects made him toxic.
Because he never dealt with the insecurities that possessed his soul, he routinely projected the darkest parts of his heart onto others, recklessly (and wrongly) imputing evil motives to them. He was also quick to blame other people for his own failures.
Today, this man’s ministry has shriveled down to nothing. Virtually all the people who once supported him bailed out long ago. He burned through secretaries, co-workers, donors, and friends like most of us go through pistachio nuts. His tissues of lies eventually shredded all around him.
His life was a study in self-sabotage.
To my knowledge, he’s never come to terms with the damage he’s brought to so many. Nor has he ever repented and apologized to those he hurt. Instead, he appears to remain fixated on his own legacy, whatever is left of it.
The tragedy here is that the vision for his life was struck down by his own hand. When his ship came in (and it did several times), he was found waiting at the airport.
A prominent Yankee once described the late Billy Martin (former manager of the Yanks) this way,
“Billy Martin is one of the most complex people I’ve ever met. Billy really is a funny guy. He’s nice, he’s mean. He’s good and bad. He’s kind and he’s cruel. He’s done some intelligent things and he’s done some dumb things. He would be an absolutely fascinating character study for someone who knows a lot more about psychology than I do. There were times when he was as nice to me as a man could be, and there were times when he went as far as out of his way as possible to hurt me as a ball player and as a man. He’s said complimentary things about me. He’s said a ton of negative things. The many faces of Billy Martin.”
This description fits the influencer I just described like a glove. But unlike Billy Martin, who had thousands of people show up at his funeral, unless Influencer 1 repents and apologizes to the countless people he’s hurt, his funeral will be attended by a small cluster of true believers and his legacy will be rapidly forgotten.
What a man builds with his gifts, he can just as quickly destroy by his character.
The second influencer was the smartest man I’ve ever met. Yet one of the most humble.
He possessed amazing wit, impressing everyone he met. Especially people in ministry, including Bible scholars and theologians who held more degrees than a thermometer. Down to the man or woman, they would all walk away awed after a conversation with him.
Whenever he spoke, he held people spellbound (this includes people like me, who has a toddler-like attention span).
People left his presence enriched, encouraged, and inspired. (Taking my cue from this man, I strive to do the same.)
I learned more from him than anyone else. Yet despite his incredible gifting, he was more interested in others than in himself . Their lives, their heartaches, their joys, and their pain. Unselfishly, he made himself available to listen to them — even for hours — and offer encouragement and wise counsel.
This leader also had an uncanny ability to validate people, even the most difficult. I watched him deal with high-maintenance befuddled souls and he’d instinctively disarm their anger and emotional turbulence.
He knew how to throw a blanket of calm over smoldering fires. His quick wit and ability to use humor to disarm people in turmoil was profoundly impressive. And I credit him for teaching me how to employ this same skill.
This particular man didn’t think much about his legacy. He lived in the present, and his lived-example was an example to others. Myself included.
As to having a robust knowledge of the Lord, the Scriptures, and history, he was without peer. And so was his gift to unpack lofty insights into simple language.
He existed to serve, not show off.
He existed to inform, not impress.
He existed to do good, not look good.
He existed to make a difference, not a name or a legacy.
Two influencers. Two very different characters and styles. Two very different results.
The first leader had an unchecked ego. As a result, he has virtually no influence today, except for a small handful of fawning sycophants who don’t know him very well.
The other leader still emits the fragrance of Jesus to all who come in contact with him. And even though I’ve never once heard him talk about his legacy, it lives on in myself and others whom he touched.
Here are ten takeaways I learned from observing both influencers. Since each one of you has influence in this world, I hope you’ll seek to build each lesson into your own life.
- Know your own limitations. The body of Christ has many functions and gifts. You don’t have them all. So learn to rely on others who excel in those areas that you don’t. And lay down your need for control. Delegate.
- People aren’t projects or stepping stones to advance your own ministry. Learn to love and honor others for their own sake. As Paul said in Philippians 2, look out for their interests. Great leaders want others to supersede them. Insecure leaders can’t release the limelight.
- Always have peers — people who can speak into your life. If you consider yourself too “gifted” to have peers, you’re living in a dream world. One that will eventually become a nightmare. It won’t be long before the rope runs out. The first leader refused to have peers in his life. The second welcomed them.
- Never judge the motives of others. While you are free to evaluate the actions and ideas of other people, imputing motives to their hearts only reveals what’s in your own.
- Be quick to apologize if you’ve wronged someone. Great leaders apologize to people even when it’s not entirely their fault. Mending relationships (wherever possible) is more important to them than being right. They consistently take the high road, not just preach about it.
- Major in Matthew 7:12. If you don’t know what that text is, go read it and tattoo it on your forehead (spiritually, that is). The first leader believed the worst about others. The second leader would never speak ill of another believer. If he heard something negative about a fellow Christian, he dismissed it. If he was concerned, he’d go to the person who was gossiped about directly to inquire — the same thing all of us would want if the shoe was sitting on our foot. So learn to live Matthew 7:12 in all situations. It’s a description of the life of Jesus Christ when walked out in shoe leather.
- People will follow your way of life more than your words, for better or for worse. The first leader’s followers carved themselves into his image. They followed what he did, not so much what he said. Consequently, they were petty, insecure, judged the motives of others, become easily jealous, were given to one-upmanship and humiliating others, and trafficked in believing and spreading slander. Never forget: people will follow your bad traits more than your good ones.
- Own your mistakes and don’t blame God’s people. The first leader was quick to blame his failing ministry on everyone else. Blaming others and guilt-tripping them is the mark of a poor leader. Good leaders acknowledge their mistakes and take responsibility.
- Don’t overpromise and underdeliver. The first leader would often share impressive ideas, plans, and goals. He was superb at bluster. But he’d rarely follow through to the end, which eroded trust and respect. Never say things just to impress people. Make good on what you promise. Deliver.
- Forget about leading others; make serving them your business. The first leader was more interested in leading than serving. The second leader never talked about “leadership” nor did he seem to view himself as a “leader.” He was too occupied with serving. So bury your penchant for wanting to lead, and excel at serving.
How to Connect with Leaders Like Influencer 2
We live in what some have called “the connection economy.” There’s tremendous value in connecting with like-minded and like-hearted people. The trick is how to find them.
Jim Rohn wisely said that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Proverbs says that he/she who spends time with the wise shall be wise.
Stay tuned for my next update in 2 weeks.
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