This article is not about politics. Really, it’s not. In fact, some of the information in this article is probably not even accurate because it presents extreme pictures of two people in order to paint a clearer picture of how best to influence others. And that is what this article is about: discovering your own particular style of influencing others.

There was a fascinating cover story in the April 2008 issue of Fast Company called “The Brand Called Obama” (you can find it here in its entirety). Keep in mind that even though it was written well before President Obama was elected and actually tested in the White House, it gives us some important clues about why his quick ascent through politics has changed business-as-usual for everyone—yes, even you, no matter if you voted for him or not, no matter if you are in agreement with where he’s taking our country presently or not. His rise tapped into something important that we—leaders in the church—need to pay attention to.

Why, you ask? Because as leaders in our “business,” the church, we have to constantly be familiar with the issues surrounding technologyrace, and influence because these thing can affect everything we do:

  • Technology is being better leveraged to communicate with each other.
  • More men and women of color are leading Fortune 500 companies.
  • There are different ways—some more effective than others—of influencing people.

And if you think about it, most of our jobs revolve around influence. If we can be better influencers, we’ll be better leaders.

So a couple of paragraphs from the article bear repeating:

Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, has long considered himself a political independent. An Obama encounter at a campaign event inspired him to take up arms for the Democratic candidate. But he can’t quite explain why. “I’m still struggling to articulate what it is about him beyond the issues that I care about,” he says. Newmark then fumbles his way to this realization: “I see him as a leader rather than a boss.” A leader, he notes, gets people to do things on their own, through inspiration, respect, and trust. “A boss can order you to do things, sure, but you do them because it’s part of the contract.”

What Newmark is describing is more complicated—and more modern—than it might appear. There have long been leaders who are bosses, and bosses who are leaders. Having a vision and inspiring or instructing others to follow that vision have long been hallmarks of business and politics. But Obama epitomizes a new way of thinking called “adaptive leadership,” which is now being taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School, among other places. This approach, as Stephen Bouwhuis recently wrote in The Australian Journal of Public Administration, is effective in handling problems that necessitate “a shift … in ways of thinking across a community.” While a visionary puts forth a specific plan to be implemented, an adaptive leader works with constituents to devise one together.

Again, I’m sure this is overstating President Obama’s style of leadership. But don’t get hung up on that. Get hung up on the bigger issue: When you think about your church, your ministry, your closest team(s), are you a leader or are you a boss?

In other words, what’s your style of influence? Sure, we can tell people what to do and make all the decisions, but then the Kingdom is based on our availability, our ideas, our opinions. And that does nothing towards multiplying ourselves into those around us and then releasing them to lead. If you want to be a boss, then you need employees who will do what you tell them to do; but if you want a team, then that takes time and an agreed-upon solution. It’s not about giving orders and having others follow-through. It’s about being a leader who influences others so that a plan is created and agreed upon and implemented together. That’s how an individual gains ownership. Not by being told to do something, but by being invited into the process of creating something.

Does that mean that there is no place for “top-down” leadership? Absolutely not. The Spirit has enabled certain of us to lead and we must lead. But there is still a difference between leading dictatorially and leading collaboratively.

So which end of the spectrum do you tend to gravitate? Which comes most naturally to you: being a leader or being a boss? To help us think through this, I want to draw on an article that Charles Albano wrote in 1999 called Adapted Leadership. You can find the short article on the web if you’d like to read it. He actually coined the phrase and has some interesting thoughts on the kinds of actions a leader—not a boss—must adopt to take their organization into the future. A leader must:

  • Think and act to exert strategic influence on their environments.
  • Be proactive, foresee opportunities and put the resources in place to go after them.
  • Employ a broad-based style of leadership that enables them to be personally more flexible and adaptive.
  • Entertain diverse and divergent views, when possible, before making major decisions.
  • Admit when they are wrong and alter or abandon a non-productive course of action.
  • Facilitate or generate creative options for action.
  • Build their organization’s capacities to learn, transform structure, change culture, and adapt technology.
  • Be willing to experiment and take risks.
  • Strive to improve their personal openness to new ideas and stay up-to-date by being lifelong learners.
  • Love and encourage innovation from within the ranks of their organizations.

Which of the above are true of you? Which do you struggle with?

Are you a leader or a boss?