You probably see it every week—leaders who undercut their influence not just by what they’ve done, but by something they’ve said or posted.
Sometimes they blow it completely through one or two dumb moves. And sometimes you end up thinking “I’m not really sure I want to follow them anymore” but you’re not exactly sure why.
Loss of influence can be subtle, but it’s real. And it’s so easy to do if you’re not careful.
Because of constant—even daily— exposure, social media makes influence easier to gain…and that much easier to lose.
Almost every ministry leader is on social media today. And so is almost everyone they lead.
So the opportunity to squander your influence is that much higher. Add quick and recent cultural shift we’ve seen to the age of outrage and a post-truth, post-fact culture, and the opportunity to lose influence fast is even greater.
Want to know what the worst part is? Often we lose influence without even realizing it.
Why Influence is So Important
Before we jump into how leaders lose influence on social media, a word on why influence matters.
Properly construed, influence is not actually about ego at all.
Gaining and building influence is critical for all of us who lead because, as John Maxwell has famously said, leadership is influence.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
The thing about influence is that it takes years to build but only seconds to lose.
Lose your influence and you’re not leading anyone.
Build influence and you can take people places they wouldn’t ordinarily go, which is the essence of a leader’s job.
Moreover, if you’re a follower of Christ, you believe the influence you’ve been given is a trust.
You’re not leveraging influence for your sake, but for the sake of a cause much bigger than yourself.
Which is why it’s so sad when ministry leaders squander trust or undermine influence.
So how do leaders undercut their influence on social media? Here are 6 subtle ways I’ve seen it happen.
1. Portraying a life everyone suspects isn’t real
It’s so tempting to portray a perfectly manicured life.
But everyone knows your marriage isn’t perfect and that your kids aren’t really as magnificently brilliant or wonderfully behaved as you let them on to be.
Bragging has become an online staple for many. Whether it’s kids’ awesome report cards, your house that can almost look like a glossy mag/Pinterest/TV, or the selfie you and your spouse took on your date night.
But dig a little deeper and you’d discover:
You tweeted the two As, on the report card, but not the Cs.
The house only really looks showcase when you hold the camera at just the right angle just before sunset and as long as the dog doesn’t photobomb the shot or eat the pillow and you keep the peeling paint out of the pic.
The selfie was taken a half hour after the fight ended.
I know, I know. We’ve all been there.
So what’s the key to building authentic influence online?
I think it’s being real.
You probably don’t want to disclose every high or every low, but you do want to share a slice of everyday.
The truth is most of us are pretty average. And average resonates. If you want to see my approach to this, follow me on Instagram. My insta-stories are pretty much a narrative of my every day life. And I love to follow people who do the same. I don’t always get it right, but I try to keep it real.
Leaders, people want to know you’re real. Because if you are, they can relate to you. (That’s why we love behind the scene looks at celebrities…just to know they’re people too.)
Oh, and God has a habit of using ordinary people.
People admire your strengths, but they resonate with your weaknesses.
2. Overdisclosing your struggles
So portraying a perfect life under-discloses your struggles. But does being real mean you should over-disclose them?
Not in the least.
When you over-disclose your struggles (“I’m having a bad day, AGAIN”), you help nobody.
When you talk about your long list of problems or what’s wrong with the world, you can miss the fact that you’re not in a conversation with anyone on those issues.
You’re just pulling a dump and run.
These 3 rules have helped me figure out when to talk about something publicly and when not to.
Just because you need to tell someone you’re struggling doesn’t mean you need to tell everyone you’re struggling.
Tell a friend, and keep your phone in your pocket.
3. Posting when you’re emotional…or angry
Nothing good happens when you’re angry. And when you’re emotional, you rarely say things you’re proud of later on.
So please don’t tell us about it.
Sometimes you see emotional status updates like “So disappointed….” or “I can’t believe that just happened…”
I don’t know about you, but it makes me think the person just wants someone to take the bait and ask what happened or, more sadly, that the person doesn’t have anyone to talk to.
If you start throwing some store that didn’t process your return well, some leader or some other victim of your anger under the bus, it makes us wonder what you’re saying about us when we’re not the room.
If you’re angry, process it. Don’t tweet it.
Go to sleep, wake up the next morning and my guess is your anger will be gone. Your status update won’t be though.
Unless of course, you never published it.
4. Playing politics
This is a personal opinion, but I think when ministry leaders jump into partisan politics, they lose influence.
I’m a Canadian, so I realize I’m likely suspect on all fronts here, but God isn’t a Democrat or a Republican; or a liberal or a conservative; or Labour or Coalition. He’s God.
And as a ministry leader, I’m called to lead all people. Even the people I disagree with.
I think when you play politics online, you squander your influence. So I don’t.
And we have people who vote in every direction at our church, which I think means we’re being the church.
5. Saying something publicly because you don’t have the guts to say it privately
You’ve seen those status updates.
“Some people are impossible to deal with!”
“I wish people would just….”
It’s easier to say it publicly than it is privately, isn’t it? Absolutely. For all of us.
But great leadership demands that difficult conversations happen privately, not publicly.
Talk to the person you’re upset with, not about them.
6. Talking only about yourself
Who’s your social media about?
Is it all about you?
Are you talking with others?
Showcasing something bigger than yourself?
We are all narcissists in one form or another, but social media has given us a platform to take self-indulgence and self-absorption to a whole new level.
We are in the middle of the rise of the selfie-generation. And with it comes a curse: a life devoted to self ultimately leaves us alone.
If you want to leverage influence well, spotlight others, even the people you lead.
Don’t make it all about you, and your influence will grow.
What Do You See?
Those are 6 things I see that undercut influence online.
In my next post, I’ll write about keys to growing your leadership and influence online.
But the meantime, how about you? What do you see that undercuts influence?
Leave a comment!