Influencing human behavior is one of the most difficult challenges of a leader. Anyone who has preached for a number of years, or taught in a classroom (like me), feels this keenly. At the end of the day, while I am convinced preaching and teaching are biblical mandates, I can sometimes wonder how effective they are in influencing change. What role does preaching and teaching have in lives that are called to become more and more like the image of Jesus (Eph 4:13)? It’s part of the reason I decided to go to a half day conference here in Portland last week. One of the authors of Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, Al Switzler, shared what he and others have learned about influence. Here are some very brief thoughts—
First, he made the point that the most important capacity you have is the ability to influence. It’s a bold statement, but it underscores what others have written, particularly about leadership. John Maxwell, after years of research on what defines a leader concluded, “Leadership is Influence. That’s it. Nothing more; nothing less.” Many others concur, ranging from Oswald Sanders to Warren Bennis. In Learning to Lead, Bennis writes that the basis of leadership is the capacity of the leader to change the mindset, the framework of another person—in a word—influence. Back in the early 90’s, Margaret Wheatley applied leadership to science, describing a leader as one who creates a “powerful field” by sending out a beacon of information, pulsing out congruent messages. Again, in a word—influence.
So how does one influence. This leads to the second takeaway. Switzler noted that influence takes into consideration two main things: a person’s will and a person’s ability. Change comes when a leader either motivates or enables. From a motivational side, a leader has to consider what makes the undesirable desirable? How do you get people to do things they find uninspiring, even painful? To motivate, one must also harness peer pressure, appreciating the power humans hold over one another. Finally, motivation considers what rewards, perks, bonuses need to be optimized. From an ability side, a leader has to figure out what can enable someone to surpass their limits—what skills can change someone’s will. A leader has to also get people to respond as a community, leveraging the social capital, for this greatly enhances the ability to change. Finally, those intent on seeing change study the structures, the nonhuman forces in the environment that get in the way.
As he puts it, influence geniuses take into account and address all of these. They focus on behaviors, vital behaviors that influence others, that have the potential to drive a lot of change. Studying the life of Christ in Matthew, the One who has influenced more change than anyone in human history, it seems that this is exactly what He did. He made the undesirable desirable. He led men to a place where they were willing to deny themselves and take up their cross. He harnessed people, telling them—“You do it. You feed the 5000.” He constantly reminded them of the rewards. “I have come that you might find life, and find it more abundantly.” He got men to live way beyond their limits—like walking on water. He stressed community—seldom if ever encouraging His disciples to act on their own. He also changed the environment. He got men to see way beyond their human limitations. At the cross, he disarmed the forces of darkness, so that no one is forced into sin. He challenged them to have the kind of faith that changes the environment—moves mountains.
And then the world changed. This is what influence does.