Where Do You Get Your Power to Lead?

power to lead

What gives you the power to lead? Ministry leaders have little authority over their people. In other organizations, the person who has a leadership position has incredible leverage to get people to do what they want them to. In business for example, managers have leverage in the form of salary, benefits, and perks. Most followers are pretty cooperative when their livelihood is at stake.

There is a significant difference between power over people and power with people.

If you are leading a business team, ministry team, team of academics or medical professionals, you would be wise to take your leaders into a soup kitchen or other environment where they have no position or title and observe how they work with others to get the job done. Watch how your leaders interact with volunteers and the people they are serving.

Are they gaining influence or losing influence over time?  Do the volunteers and people they are serving willingly following their lead? If so, then you probably have good leaders on your team. If not, you might have leaders that rely on the power of their position.

The fundamental question is this: where do you gain your power to lead? Another question you may ask is this: “Why do people follow me?” Clarifying the reason people follow, might indicate where you gain your power to lead.

People may follow you out of fear. They are afraid of what might happen to them if they don’t follow, if they don’t do what you ask them to do. Followers get along with you by going along. This isn’t real followership and therefore, it’s not real leadership. It’s lip service loyalty. Leadership by coercive power.

Others might follow you because of the benefits that come to them if they do. The power of this relationship is based on the exchange of goods and services. The followers have something you want and you, as the leader, have something they want. It is a very transactional relationship – give and take. Sadly, outside the area of transaction there is no other influence. You will rarely, if ever, be asked to help one of your staff solve a personal issue or to join them in celebrating a personal milestone. This is a deficient form of leadership – a mere utility power over followers.

The third level of followership is different not only in degree, it is completely different in kind. In this case your followers are following not because they have to and not because of the transactional benefits. They follow because they want to. In short you have authentic influence based on the foundation of trust. You have earned the right to lead. That is power with people not just power over people.

This is not blind faith nor mindless obedience. It’s not robotic servitude. It is wholehearted commitment resulting from a perceived sense that you are someone worth following.

The surest way to be someone worth following, is by following Jesus, the greatest leader of all time.

Jesus was a servant. There is no such thing as servant leadership, either you are a servant or no leader at all.  Use the power you have in the organization to serve others, remove obstacles and help them succeed in their work.

Jesus was an encourager. When it comes to believing in themselves most people are agnostic. Jesus recognized the dignity, worth and potential of everyone He met. He related to them in that way and that is what they became.  Be a strong and clear voice of encouragement for others. Affirm the good you see and speak to the potential they have for greatness.

Jesus was magnanimous. He handled every leadership situation perfectly well, but He never followed a repeatable script. He was as likely to be fierce as he was to be tender.  Following His lead, we should strive to be tender with every vulnerable heart and fight against any systemic hypocrisy, misalignment of values and toxic elements of the culture.

Ministry in the Church is the most leadership intensive endeavour in the world. Ministry leaders should never rely on a position or title to lead and influence their people. Rather, focus on becoming the kind of person that has power with people not just power over people.

Jesus is the ultimate leader and willing to help you become more and more like Him. And that’s what your staff could really need right now – more of Jesus. He must increase and we must decrease.

This article about the power to lead originally appeared here.

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Brett Powell
Brett Powell serves as the Archbishop’s Delegate of Development and Ministries for the Archdiocese of Vancouver. Before this position, Brett worked in parishes, as an executive with Catholic Christian Outreach, and as Director of an Archdiocesan Development Office. His experience has accumulated to 25 years of ministry. Brett and his wife, Andrea, have eight children.