Lead by Influence, Not by Command

Leadership can be viewed as a continuum, with the command-and-control style of leadership on one end of the spectrum, and the influencing style of leadership on the other. Command-and-control may work in certain scenarios, but for churches, that style of leadership generally doesn’t work.

There are a number of reasons for this.For one, churches are volunteer organizations: start shouting orders at people, and many will simply walk away. Plus, people will only serve with their heart when they believe in the vision. Commanding (by itself) does little to inculcate vision and incite passion. Perhaps most importantly, though, command-and-control is a self-defeating strategy because it rarely attracts—and never nurtures—other leaders.

Central to the mission of the church is the task of making disciples, and that means that our primary “product” is disciples—not worship experiences or powerful sermons. Disciples take a vision and run with it, but only if we are empowering them to grow as leaders. Here is a chart to help visualize the leadership continuum:

The Empowering Leader Continuum


Genius With 1,000 Helpers


Catalytic Leader


On the left side is the Non-Delegator, who finds it impossible to let go of any task, however small. This is the person who is constantly running around overwhelmed, because there are a million things to do and he is the only one who can do them. Most people recognize that this is in no way a viable pattern.

Only slightly better than the Non-Delegator is the Genius With 1,000 HelpersThis person gives away tasks, but never shares responsibility or authority. They may get a lot more done than the Non-Delegator, but they do nothing to raise up leaders. The vision remains with the Genius, who is surrounded by dutiful minions. (One of our staff noted that Santa Claus is the Genius With 1,000 Helpers par excellence.)

The Micromanager shares vision, but still attempts to control everything along the way. Like the Genius With 1,000 Helpers, this person gets a lot done, but the environment is hostile to cultivating leaders. Why? Because by continually hovering over every decision, the Micromanager subtly communicates that he doesn’t trust you. (By the way, if you look at the chart above and think, “There’s a missing category,” you just might be a Micromanager.)

What leaders should strive for is the Catalytic Leader. This person gives away opportunity, but still retains responsibility. This can be dangerous. Empowering people to pursue opportunities sometimes means that you have to take the heat when things blows up. And the Catalytic Leader never gets things done as quickly as the Micromanager or the Genius With 1,000 Helpers. But “getting things done quickly” is not our target.

Catalytic Leaders understand the “80% Quality Rule” – if someone can do it 80% as well as I can, then I let them do it. 80% is just an estimate, but it illustrates the principle: there is value in empowering someone else, even if I can do the job better. These sorts of leaders know that this is a tradeoff, but it is a tradeoff they are willing to make because it creates a leadership culture.

Farther to the right of the Catalytic Leader is Mr. Hands-Off. Mr. Hands-Off often looks a lot like the Catalytic Leader, but has actually backed out of the leadership picture altogether. This is an absentee leader who doesn’t actually care enough to engage, influence, or guide others. More often than not, Mr. Hands-Off is simply lazy.

At our church, we strive to be a leadership team of Catalytic Leaders. There is no executive level of people doing all of the strategy served by a cadre of minions who simply execute. We would much rather steer stallions than dictate to servants. But the question is always, How do we become Catalytic Leaders? Here are five ways (a non-comprehensive list):

1. Ruthlessly foster a servant attitude in your heart.  You have to see yourself as the one who washes feet. I am reminded of the situation in Acts 6, when the apostles had to appoint people to care for feeding the widows and orphans. What is often overlooked is that prior to Acts 6 the apostles were doing this service themselves. No one should see himself as beyond the role of servant.

2. Give away praise as fast as possible. Be the biggest cheerleader for people on your staff. Don’t worry about your own praise. Being stingy with compliments won’t earn you more praise; being generous with it will.

3. Perfect the art of salesmanship. Commanders don’t have to sell vision; leaders do. This is why every year I read a book on selling. The overlap between sales and influence is larger than most people think.

4. Bring others into the discussions . . . early. You may find this surprising, but other people will have insight that you don’t. Sometimes you know they are repositories of wisdom; other times they surprise you. Give them the chance to surprise you with what they bring to the table.

5. Be patient. Being a Catalytic Leader means sacrificing efficiency and speed, and most leaders find it uncomfortably slow. But empowering is worth it, because people are worth it.

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