In a counseling class I took in college, students were placed into groups to work on a project. I don’t remember the topic we tackled, but I sure remember the people. They were awful!
I can laugh about it now, but that experience was tough. I didn’t look forward to gathering, we never got much done, and I felt as if I had no influence to change or shift the group.
One day the professor came in to observe us working together. We just sat there. We were embarrassed by our overall lack of progress and intimidated that the person who’d soon be grading us was watching. She asked the group a few questions and could easily discern that we weren’t functioning well. “Brandon,” she asked, “tell me about this group. Why is it struggling?”
“Really?” I asked. When she replied yes, I unloaded:
- “This gal is mostly silent unless she’s talking about her boyfriend and their long-distance relationship.”
- “This guy isn’t productive because he misses class too often. When we ask him to help with something, he has no idea because he wasn’t there.”
- “She isn’t contributing to the conversation because she lacks confidence.” (I’m sure that was a confidence booster!)
- “This guy takes charge of everything and bulldozes the process, forcing elements of the project on us.”
- “And overall? It. Is. Not. Fun.”
My professor nodded and said, “Wow, you can read people well. I’m impressed with your level of maturity, understanding, and discernment. You might be ready to teach this class!” Then everyone stood up and applauded me.
Okay, so that isn’t exactly how it went down. “Mr. Early,” the professor said, “it sounds like you need to practice thinking before speaking.”
“But you told me to assess the group,” I said in my defense.
“Not what I meant,” she firmly replied.
Part of the problem was that I didn’t see myself as part of the problem. I couldn’t direct or redirect our group because I lacked the qualities that help fuel influence.Click to tweet
When you’re trying to influence anyone or any group, three choices are crucial. They don’t earn you influence overnight. Rather, they begin forming you into the type of person others want to be around, because change and transformation happen when they’re around you. In other words: You don’t just get influence, you grow it.
These three traits are embedded in highly influential people:
- You ask what is best, not who is best. Jesus runs into the “Who is best?” question in Luke 9:46-48, when his disciples argue about which of them is the greatest. By contrast, Jesus is moments away from the greatest act of humility and suffering the world will ever see. He’s preparing to do what’s best for the world while his disciples are debating who’s best in the world. Ironically, Jesus, who is best, isn’t even on their ballot! It’s incredibly tough to gain influence with others when you’re focused on yourself.
- You say “I will” when others say “I wish.” Conan O’Brien said, “If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” That sounds simple but is so valuable. Many people aren’t willing to work hard, yet they expect things to happen. That’s no recipe for influence. When you work hard and care for others, you stand out. If you’re driven to get the job done, you’ll earn credibility and influence. Saying “I will” do this instead of “I wish” this would get done shows you aren’t satisfied with doing the bare minimum. It telegraphs your work ethic, and promises you’ll go the extra mile. Volunteers do this all the time. Working without pay—and sometimes without credit—shows their humility and drive. That’s an “I will” move, and that’s influence. People want to be around influencers. Instead of saying, “I wish my team were more effective” or “I wish I had my supervisor’s responsibility,” try saying, “I will do what I’m here to do.” Then commit to doing the job well at a healthy, manageable, and sustainable pace, going above and beyond when it’s truly required.
- You gain influence by remaining relational. The instinct is to think of yourself first, but to keep or gain influence, staying relational is key. It takes a special capacity to understand and take into account how other people are feeling. Teams (whether it’s my college project or various teams at church) sometimes don’t function well because of how others are being treated. Behavior is tough to change; in fact, I’ve learned I can affect other people’s actions in minor ways and my own behavior in major ways. After interactions, I frequently need to check in and ask myself: “Was that relational? Was that abrasive? Was that necessary? When I said things the way I did, was I caring about the person’s feelings or just my own?”
To sum up, relational influence grows by:
- Recognizing that what you want to do is often different from what you should do… and adapting your behavior as needed.
- Valuing others and giving them opportunities to contribute with their strengths.
- Cultivating compassion—showing concern for and genuine interest in others.
- Being self-aware (asking, “How am I making other people feel?”).
What would you add to this list? How have you grown your influence in your own sphere of influence?