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Improving Your Leadership
Identifying and Engaging Influencers
By William Davis D.Min. 
After twenty five years of equipping ministry I have come to the conclusion that “Leadership” can be summed up in one word, influence.  John Maxwell puts it this way, “The true measure of leadership is influence…nothing more, nothing less.[i]

I have found that to lead people in groups of any size it is crucial to both identify and engage the influencers among them.  I find that in a congregation there are influencers both outside and inside the group.  Outside influencers may consist of members’ family, friends, culture and society.  While all of these may play a role of influence as long as they are outside the group they are secondary sources.  It is within the group that I find individuals who exercise influence in significant ways.  These are the insiders or primary influencers.  Primary influencers are the people that matter in congregational leadership.  If you know and work well with them you can be very effective.  If you end up working against them your leadership will suffer and ultimately fail.

How do people become influencers?  There are two types of influencers; Positive and Negative Influencers.  Let’s begin on a positive note.  Many are influencers because of age or experience.  In some cultures it is enough to be officially recognized as leader to be given the authority necessary to be an influencer.  In others it is required that a person spend many years acquiring the right to be heard and wield influence.  Human society has a natural respect for those who have gone before and know the way.  But this is not always true in our fast paced and change oriented society.  Today knowledge and experience trump time on the job.  Culture plays a crucial key in identifying the influencers in a congregation.[ii] Positive influence streams from individuals who over time have shown a devotion to the wellbeing of the people of the congregation.

Some influencers achieve this effect naturally while others impose influence through negative and subversive methods.  There are those who use financial means and other physical benefits to impose their will.  I call them the donor class.  These individuals can interfere with the leadership of the church if their motives are not pure.  Manipulation and control are elements of influence that cannot be ignored but are negative and destructive over the long run.[iii] I have seen how negative influencers can resort to threats and bullying if they are not dealt with in the right way.  Others I have found will use power or position to benefit or hurt those around them as they see fit.   Beware of the church member who wants to be on the Board to achieve power.

There are two elements of leadership that are crucial to the development of influence.  These are power and authority.[iv] Power comes from position or office as well as ability to reward or punish others.  Power alone does not make a person a leader.  Power can influence people but it is a negative motivator that can lose its strength in the absence of the threat of harm or the promise of gain.  Authority is gained by trust.  Trust is gained by experience and accomplishment, a proven track record. 

Authority is also gained through personal relationship that builds this trust.  Authority can be held by one who has little power.  For this reason we may find the greatest influencers are outside of the power structure of the group.  Authority breeds lasting positive influence!

How can the pastor lead through the influencers of a congregation?  By identifying those who have authority among the church members.  These are the people who are consulted in some way by decision makers before they come to a conclusion.  On committees they may be almost silent but when they speak all ears are open and their words carry weight that the more vocal members of a group may lack.  At times they are not even a part of the power structure of the congregation but are consulted privately and even posthumously in some cases.  People might ask themselves “What would Charlie do?” or “What would Doris think about this?”  Sometimes the person’s influence can be felt in an overwhelming way and at other times it is a low whisper but it still holds sway.

Once identified the influencers must be engaged.  Engagement is crucial if the influencers are to be a positive force within the congregation.  Left out in the cold they can destroy the best efforts of leadership.  Informed and consulted they can become the leader’s greatest advocates. Engagement is crucial to productivity in organizations.  A recent study by the Carnegie Foundation and MSW showed that engaged people are more productive.[v]  Caring managers (pastors) are the key to engaged employees (members).  If this is true in business it is also true in the church.  Caring and personal concern, respect, active listening, and careful, prayerful consideration all have an effect of the pastor’s ability to effectively engage influencers.

Influencers are people who matter and these are often people who are very busy.  Making time to have meaningful conversations with them about the future of the church and the vision that they may have for it are of vital importance.  Understanding their views and concerns will help the pastor in leading the congregation forward with the officers of the church.  I’ve seen that many influencers will become allies of pastoral leadership if they are engaged effectively and respectfully. 

Some pastors may feel that this engaging of influencers is caving in to local power brokers.  They may feel a desire to break away from old customs and traditions.  However, I’ve discovered that change for changes sake alone will not make churches grow!  Engagement and consciousness raising of influencers[vi] will bring pastor and leadership in line with each other.  Alignment is one of the key factors of effectiveness according to Stephen Covey.[vii]

But Alignment goes two ways in pastoral leadership.  The pastor is above all a minister and a minister is a servant of the church to see it grow and improve.  Servant leadership requires the engagement of influencers in the process.  As the pastor shows respect and understanding for the views of influencers these will in turn listen to the views of the pastor.  Together they can forge ahead and lead the church to new heights.
Source: Davis Leadership Consulting LLC
Pastors Speak Out on Identifying and Engaging Influencers in the Congregation
I have asked fellow pastors to share with me their own ways of identifying and engaging influencers in their specific congregations.  I have found their insights helpful in preparing this article and feel that readers can also gain from their experience.  I encourage readers to offer your ideas on the subject of how to identify and engage influencers in your congregation by continuing this discussion on our facebook page.

Description: C:\Users\davisgomez\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\EA3M3M1I\Craig Carr April 2008.jpgCraig Carr D.Min.
Ministerial Director Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and recently Senior Pastor Boulder Colorado.

I would say identifying the influencers is easy. Just look for the people that others readily listen to regardless of whether they hold a church office.  Observe the systems at work in a congregation: SS classes, friendship circles, ministry groups, those that naturally lead through their presence and relationships within the congregation.

I engage them by talking with them.  Asking for their opinions and really listening.   Then I ask their recommendations regarding strategies without just asking them to "do it," for they will likely get bogged down in the details.  Most influencers are "big picture" people that need others to help carry out ideas and plans.

Phillip Baptiste
Communications Direct, Central States Conference, and Pastor at the Palace of Peace Seventh-day Adventist Church,  Colorado Springs, CO

I identify influencers through prayerful observation, keeping in mind the rule given by John Maxwell.  “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen”!

I engage them through personal contact sharing a meal and conversation regarding their hopes and vision.  I follow the rule that Leaders deserve to know first.  I invest in them through personal recognition of important dates such as anniversaries and birthdays, sending them hand written notes.  I seek to create authentic and natural relationships with them.  When discussing important issues I invite them to bring it up at committee meetings and boards.   I provide them with material to enhance their capabilities such as books and magazines.  I publicly show my appreciation for their efforts.  I follow the Ritz Carlton Treatment that says “I am customer service” .

Description: C:\Users\davisgomez\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\6SDIUDP7\IMG_5602.JPGSheldon R. Bryan
Pastor, Salt Lake City Central and Tongan Churches

I identify them by watching who is following whom.  In a multicultural ministry situation I have to learn the culture to see behind the scenes and find the real influencers.  They are often not elected officials.  One way to identify influencers is to listen to the stories people tell and see who has walked a long time with the people and have thus gained their trust. 
I engage influencers by being a facilitator of the dreams and visions of the people in my church.  I am there only a short while and they will be there for the long term.  This requires listening to them and then guiding them along as they dream.  It requires respect of their ideas.  I encourage positive and productive disagreement.  Major decisions require major discussion.  This also requires trust and respect on the part of my self and the other church leaders.
William Davis is the Pastor of the Provo Seventh-day Adventist Church
[i]  The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, 1998
[ii] See the GLOBE study
[iii] McGregor’s X and Y theories
[iv] Davis, William, “Leadership as Shared Power Authority and Responsibility” Dissertation San Francisco Theological Seminary, 1999 
[v] Carnegie White Paper
[vi] Freire, Paulo “Pedagogy of the Opressesd” 1972
[vii] Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989