Leadership, Influence, and Power


Many have said that leadership is essentially influence. If forced to define it in a word, I agree that “influence” is a good choice. In reality, the work of leading self and others is much more complex, but, in simplest terms leadership is essentially the ability to influence your self and others toward some future goal or vision. Recently, I ran across a presentation that explored an additional dimension that must be considered in the leadership-influence relationship: The role of POWER. We often talk about leadership as influence, but I sense that many of us are afraid to acknowledge that power is a very real part of the leadership equation. Why? Because I think “power” has developed a bad connotation.

When you think of the word “power,” what comes to mind? Strength? Intensity? Yes, those are valid connections. Put the term “power” in an organizational context, though. When someone says, “Margaret has real power in that division,” what is the unspoken message? Or, if you hear, “John powered his way through that negotiation,” what do you envision happened? The mental images turn negative rather quickly, don’t they?

Either way, it is hard to deny the relationship between leadership, influence,… and power. We all recognize that a leader has influence–and influence is the ability to change people’s thinking and actions. Anyone who has the ability to change people’s thinking and actions has power.

Below is a way to visualize this relationship between leadership and power.1 Notice that power can be used in two ways. First, if power is used to help other people it is empowering. Leaders who use their leadership to increase others’ ability to influence people’s thinking and actions are empowering. They essentially give power away. However, if power is used to help yourself, it is overpowering. This is often called “dark leadership.” Overpowering leaders, or dark leaders, take power away from others. Their focus is only on personal ambitions.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 7.37.24 PM

So what is the distinction between empowering and overpowering leaders? Simple. Values. Whatever it is that you, as a leader, hold most dear and important in your life is what will determine whether your leadership is empowering or overpowering.

Are you all one or the other? Is any individual entirely empowering or overpowering? No. To be honest, we all vacillate in our use of power, and move between empowering and overpowering leadership. We are all selfish to a degree. We all have the ability to be altruistic and caring of others. But, left to our own devices, the scale would certainly tip toward overpowering. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB). Fortunately, we are redeemed by God’s grace through Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24).

How can you maximize your knowledge of this leadership-power model? Commit time to consciously consider what values you hold and how they affect your expression of leadership, influence, and power. When you find yourself creating an environment in which others have more control and influence over their situation, what was most important to you then? When you find yourself overpowering someone, what values are operational? What was most important to you at that moment?

Here is a challenging exercise: Sit down with your spouse or someone who knows you very well and ask, “Based on your observation of my life, my decisions, and my words and actions, what do you believe is most important to me?” Ask this question of two or three people and you will begin to develop a very clear picture of what your values are.

It might help to have a definition of values. Here is my definition:
Values are the ideals and principles that we hold most dear and that direct daily choices and actions.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Photo “Lightnings” by Marko Cvejic. Available at Flickr.com.

1: The “Leadership-Influence-Power” model belongs to Jeremie Kubicek, GIANT Worldwide (2011).

3 thoughts on “Leadership, Influence, and Power

  1. I’ve taught this before! The Greek definition of “Power” in certain places in the Bible actually means, “(in the sense of ability); privilege, i.e. (subjectively) force, capacity, competency, freedom, or (objectively) mastery (concretely, magistrate, superhuman, potentate, token of control), delegated influence:–authority, jurisdiction, liberty, power, right, strength.” So leadership is all of these words. Paul says,

    I Corinthians 9:4: Have we not power to eat and to drink?

    I Corinthians 9:5: Have we not power to LEAD about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?

    I Corinthians 9:6: Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?

    I Corinthians 9:12: If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless WE HAVE NOT USED THIS POWER; but suffer [permitted] all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.

    I Corinthians 9:18: What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I ABUSE NOT MY POWER in the gospel.

    Dave Ramsey talks about in his book EntreLeadership that we must have power but seldom use it.

    So power is to be lightly used in reference to personal gain, it should be used to help others, and in other references of power we are to GREATLY use is in spiritual warfare against demonic “influences” or “dark leadership” as you referred above. Good post!

    • Ricardo,
      Thanks for the insightful reply!

      I wanted to follow up to share an important verbiage distinction from the Greek, and to shed light on Paul’s writing pattern that provides additional insight.

      In the passages from I Corinthians 9 that you shared, Paul used the word exousia which is best translated as authority or right. In other parts of this letter to the Corinthian church, he used a different word for power, dounamis. A particularly important example to explore is I Corinthians 15:24.

      “…then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.” (NASB)

      In that passage, Paul used both words exousia and dounamis, authority and power (respectively), clearly making a distinction between the two.

      What IS the distinction?

      In general, Paul usually used the word dounamis (power) when referring to God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit (but not always). Also, Paul often uses the word exousia (authority) when referring to believers.

      What can we learn from this? Who has real power? Only God. Through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are granted authority. We do not actually have power. It is granted to us, thus giving us authority.

      Getting back to my blog post, holy applications of that authority will empower others for the cause of Christ. Abusive applications of that authority (or the seizing of power) will overpower others for the cause of Satan.

      Let’s remember God has true dounamis and He grants us exousia. We must exercise tapeinophrosune (humility) and allow the Holy Spirit to act through us: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, NASB).

      • I was going to get into both of these, but it was early morning and I had to hit the door to get to work,. But yea, I have taught on both of these. We are on the same page. Thanks for sharing and adding value to it. Good stuff! Love it. Christ bless!

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