“I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion. By me kings reign and rulers make laws that are just” – Proverbs 8:12, 15
My favorite definition of “leadership” is John Maxwell’s. In “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” Maxwell writes, “The true meaning of leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”
I like that. One reason is it’s easy to remember. But it’s also true.
Of course, influence isn’t always about leadership. If an elephant breaks into a room, no one can argue that the pachyderm doesn’t have influence, but he’s not a leader. So, not everything that has influence is a leader, but all real leaders have influence. Without influence it’s not possible to lead.
Influence – again, Maxwell – is what distinguishes leaders from managers. Managers, he notes, can maintain direction, but can’t change it. Leaders move people in a new direction, and for that, influence is required.
How does one develop influence? You ever been put in a position where you needed to lead but you lacked influence? Speaking from experience, that’s sort of like being handed a set of reins only to discover that they’re not connected to anything. Do how does one develop influence?
We’d all agree that influence is a product of position, intelligence, knowledge, relationships and a number of other factors that we must cultivate and capitalize on if we’re to have influence. But I’d like to suggest another factor, maybe not as obvious as the others, that bears on influence and hence on leadership as much, maybe more, than any other.
You may be familiar with the bible book of Ecclesiastes. Sort of a commentary written by Israel’s King Solomon after an exhaustive study of what gives life meaning, one of Solomon’s conclusions is, “Wisdom makes one wise man more powerful [read, ‘influential’] than ten rulers in a city.” Solomon says you take the mayor, the CEOs of the biggest corporations in town, you throw in a couple other local powerbrokers, and you stack all these “rulers” up against somebody with wisdom, and the wise guy has more influence.
A “for instance” is Solomon himself. Given the gift of wisdom by God, according to the scriptures, when Solomon was the newly crowned king of Israel, he faced a conundrum. Two new moms, both prostitutes – one of whom, likely in a drunken stupor, had suffocated her newborn – appeared before Solomon claiming to be the mother of the living child. With deep insight into basic human nature Solomon cracked the case (see how in 1 Kings 3). The text reports that when word of how Solomon’s wisdom had enabled him to understand how people behave in various situations, his subjects “held him in awe.” That’s influence.
Then there were the advisors to Israel’s King David identified simply as the men of Issachar. 2 Chronicles tells us that these fellows “knew the times and understood what Israel should do.” What kind of influence do you suppose a group of folks with wisdom enough to unscrew America’s inscrutable problems wield today?
In the bible book of Acts, the apostle Paul, prisoner on a boat with 275 others, including crew and Roman guards, in a storm-tossed sea that threatens to break the ship apart becomes the most influential man on the boat. Why? Based on wisdom he had confidence in God that enabled him to keep his head when around him all others were losing theirs.
If we buy into the notion that wisdom provides influence to lead, how does one become wise? The bible tells us that only God can give the kind of wisdom that marked Solomon, the men of Issachar, and the apostle Paul. The good news of the scriptures is that this sort of wisdom is available to anyone willing to prayerfully and diligently search the scriptures for it.
Dr. Jim Furr