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Which is more important in leadership, influence or position? Does one trump the other or are they equal? Are they mutually exclusive? Can you possess only one or just one at a time?

For just a moment pretend you have been chosen to participate in the world’s most prestigious Leadership Game Show. Finally they call you to the stage where two doors await you from which you must chose. One door is marked “Leadership Influence” and the other “Leadership Position,” which one will you choose?

I have taught the leadership principle for years that “position does not equal influence.” Leaders often mistakenly believe their titles naturally come with the “Power of Influence,” however I know plenty of “people of position” who have virtually zero influence.

On the other hand I know a myriad of title-less, position-less, second-tier people who possess vast influence. They often are the glue that hold a company or organization together. They may work behind the scenes encouraging, exhorting and empowering people without ever being recognized by upper management. Ironically the rank and file know who they are and respect them.

We find a scriptural example in 1 Chronicles 11:1-8. Saul had the position but David had the influence. Notice five qualities of a leader of influence as exemplified in David’s life.

  1. They are relational. (v.1) Being a part of people’s lives is important to them. They take time to build relationships on multiple levels.
  2. They can lead without possessing position. (v.2) Some leaders can only lead because they have a title or a badge proclaiming their position. “Leaders of Influence” do not require external leverage because they move people’s very souls.
  3. They care for people. (v.2) You will find them putting others first, eating last or simply checking in to make sure things are okay. They love people.
  4. They are natural leaders. (v.3) Having led well from the “second chair,” they are naturals stepping into the primary leadership role. And other people are usually comfortable following them.
  5. They lead by example. (v.4) Leaders of influence do not send people to war, they personally lead them. These are usually battle tested veterans, not newly appointed novices.

I am not insinuating that “Leaders of Position” do not or cannot have influence. I am simply pointing out that you do not have to have a position to have influence. Many of you reading this blog hold positions and have immense influence.

I think it is important for us to ponder what it means to be a leader and how to define leadership. “When you break leadership down to the lowest common denominator, it is really influence!”

What has been your experience with position and influence?

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