Roots of Indirect Leadership

Tree roots

Did this ever happen to you? You see a problem that needs fixing, so you attack the issue head-on, thinking you will solve it quickly but the problem only gets worse. You try harder but, instead of making progress, those who are against the idea increase in number, feelings become tense, and the change more distant. So you give the problem everything you’ve got by confronting the instigators of resistance and making sweeping policy changes. Now the whole thing explodes in your face: resentments arise, people take sides, and the original goal of introducing a positive change is forgotten. Your only goal now is to get back to the stability the group had before you started this campaign.

What went wrong?

We have all likely tried to influence what people do by using the power of our position. We tried to do the right thing but fell into the trap of being too confrontational. We didn’t consider the multiplicity of forces contributing to the problem. We made the classic mistake of oversimplification, thinking we could exert direct personal influence to change a complex situation.

It is a systems perspective.

Indirect influence is a set of leadership behaviors that flow from an understanding that organizations are complex systems of interrelated parts. Leaders are more effective at managing change when they approach the problem through all the relevant parts and not by just attacking the most visible and immediate point of contact.

It is also a theological perspective.

God does not force His will upon human beings through sheer power. Instead, He calls us to Him and helps all who respond to that call.

“The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting” (Psalm 50:1, ESV).

“For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39, ESV).

Indirect influence is a way to lead change as God leads change: “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6). It doesn’t depend on the strength of our talents, or on the power of our position. Instead, it trusts the Spirit of God to drive the change.

Think of someone who had a profound positive influence in your life. How did they exert that influence? What techniques did they use? What behaviors?

provides consulting services for churches and organizations. Contact Dr. Waddell today at gregwaddell[at] to discuss the needs of your organization.

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