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5 Ways to Squander Your Influence Without Trying

Anyone who has ever led anything knows that influence can be a precarious thing.

What can take years to build can be lost or squandered almost overnight. It happens every day to leaders, and often they’re the last to see it.

So how do you end up losing influence as a leader, without even trying?

ways to squander influence city street crosswalk

Well first some clarity around how influence and leadership work.

I believe John Maxwell is right, leadership is influence. If you want to know whether you’re a leader, look over your shoulder to see if anyone’s following. If they are, you’re a leader, regardless of your title. If not, you probably aren’t, regardless of your title. Your leadership rises and falls with your influence. Period.

Second, I also think Andy Stanley is completely accurate when he says that leadership is always a stewardship; it’s temporary, and we’re accountable. (Jared Dunn has a summary of Andy’s thinking here.)

Did you catch that?

Our influence is temporary

It was given to us by God for a purpose

It can be taken away

One day we will give an account for how we used it

Leaders who take that seriously, I think, become the leaders most worth following.

And the most effective leaders also realize you can squander your influence quickly, without trying.

Here’s are 5 ways to squander your influence as a leader without trying:

1. Make ‘likability’ a goal. Being likeable is a by-product of leadership; it is not the goal of leadership. In fact, some of the most effective leaders are not liked. And it’s not just because of a ‘personality defect’. Moses, Jesus, Paul and most of the prophets were, in many seasons, hated by the people they led. That kind of affection would crush many of the ‘leaders’ I know in the church today.

This is no excuse to be an arrogant, brash or uncaring leader. Bully pulpits and platforms are not the goal either. But sometimes even when you lead with both humility and conviction, you will still not be liked. That’s okay. If you try to be liked by everyone, you will ultimately stand for nothing and lead no one anywhere significant.

2. Compromise morally, in big or small ways. There are obvious categories of moral failure that will evaporate your influence instantly; have an affair, steal or commit a crime and you’ll lose influence instantly. You don’t even have to be a Christian leader to fall this way. The headlines are littered with athletes, politicians and public figures who have cheated, lied and broken trust.

But aside from ‘major failings’, small compromises will sap your influence over time as well. Shade the truth. Exaggerate. Do things you wouldn’t want anyone to find out about, even though they’re not illegal. This catches up with you. The people who see you every day often get a sense of where your moral compass really points. And even if they don’t, God does. People want to follow someone with an authentic moral compass. And God wants leaders who really seek him. The more your compass is off, even a little, the more you squander influence.

3. Don’t do what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it. Most of us leaders are eager to please. And that can lead to over-promising in the name of not wanting to let anyone down. But over time, even in the small things, when you fail to do what you said you were going to do when you were going to do it, you damage your influence.

Trust is confidence. And when you break even well-intentioned promises, you erode trust.

4. Only talk about your strengths and awesomeness. Leaders who only talk about their victories may be influential, but I believe they could be even more influential if they honestly talked about their struggles. Leaders who just talk about their strengths make others feel inadequate, but they also lose credibility with outsiders and younger adults. The next generation knows you don’t have it all together. So tell them (appropriately).

One of the all time most-talked-about messages at our church was one my wife Toni and I gave on our marriage. We talked about our darkest days, and how there were seasons we didn’t think we were going to make it. You can watch it here (the message is called “Command Performance”). It resonated not just because it was the truth about us, but because it described the tension so many other people face.

5. Let Your Relationship With Christ Get Stale. Listen, keeping a strong spiritual life as a leader is hard. I know. But when I started ministry I told our elders at the time to fire me if they ever sensed my walk with Christ had dried up. Give me a couple of months to get it right, but if I don’t, send me packing. You can’t lead people to a place where you have never been. And when try to do the authentic work of God without an authentic relationship with God it eventually kills your church.

You don’t have to try to drift away from God. It just happens. So engage. Stay fresh. Love the one who loves you.

Those are five ways I see leaders squander their influence without trying.

What do you see? Please add to this list in the comments below.

And don’t miss the follow up post to this: Five (More) Ways to Squander Your Influence Without Trying

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  • Carey, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post you bring to us all. First of all, I’m grateful for men like you who communicate a more securely attached idea of Leadership than what commonly gets passed off as in today’s world of overly attached connectedness via social media and the like. (Does that even make sense?)

    This idea of leadership (platform) whatever you want to call it, being a stewardship, ultimately being given, gifted even, is what I hope to never ever lose sight of. The leaders I am most attracted to are the ones who truly know and live this!

    Thanks Carey!

    • Josh..thank you for the encouragement. Any platform is a stewardship. Couldn’t agree more. I also love the idea that a gift says as much about the giver as it does the recipient. We have a generous God. Thanks Josh.

  • Bro. Alan Parrish

    Awesome words, Bro. Carey! I find another way we as leaders lose influence is by putting a facade up for the world to see and not being genuine. When we are genuine in our actions, and not simply tossing out platitudes or generalities, I believe that we gain people that will trust us and follow us for who God has made us to be. Some pastors I have met tend to throw out the standardized Gospel greetings and don’t give people meat to chew on. When we are genuinely happy and filled with the Spirit of Truth, people will see that; they will also be able to tell if we aren’t!

    • Carey Nieuwhof

      Alan that’s so true. I think lack of authenticity is definitely a significant way to lose influence.

  • Carey, I see something interesting about 4 of the 5 ways. They are ways of being selfish and worrying more about yourself than those you’re leading.

    • Thanks Brent and Joe. Yes, selfishness does really unite the points. And really, the Christian journey is about death to self and life to Christ. Thank you!

  • One addition could be to simply stop investing in others. But really, #5 is most critical. Keeping it ‘real’ with Jesus should keep us from gravitating to any of these points on this post. Yes…leadership is influence. And we should be praying for both constantly. Nice post, Carey.

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