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Influence and Engagement By Lee Ellis

Solutions to Influence and Engagement

As a church or nonprofit leader, you’re pressured to find solutions and get results as you head into the last quarter of the year. Regardless of your internal or external goals, the tool that we must use in the process is gaining and using influence with others. This skill seems to be an important question for many people, and it made me think of a practical point from the novel and movie The Shack.

Power and Authority Versus Relationships

The main character Mackenzie is having a conversation about power and authority with the Trinity. He proposes that power and authority are the most critical way to influence others. In this discussion the Trinity explains that the role of relationships is far more important for influencing others as well as being fundamental to their Divine roles.

The crucial role of influence in relationships matches our leadership consulting and training experience. We have surveyed thousands of very strong and powerful leaders to identify the characteristic of their best leader. More than 70% of the time, they come up with a relationship attribute and not a results-oriented behavior, power, or authority attribute.

When we look at the list shared by people in the room, often these highly results-oriented leaders are surprised when realizing that relationships—not power—drew them to their best leaders.

A Major Stumbling Block to Success

Relationship connections are a need of human nature in every generation, and it’s a real stumbling block for strong leaders that don’t understand this fact. I believe that it’s one of the biggest issues in the workplace today. Consider the following statistics:

  • 70% of Americans are not arriving at work committed to delivering their best performance.
  • 52% are not engaged in their work and
  • 18% are actively disengaged.

What’s the big problem with a lack of staff and volunteer engagement? Consider this short list – a loss of energy, not taking full ownership and responsibility, missing accountability, donors and congregations not well served, teams not running on all cylinders, workplace dissatisfaction, and high turnover.

The missing ingredient is a relationship with their immediate supervisor. When people don’t feel engaged, it’s about relationships.

Building a New Culture of Engagement

So what are some things honorable leaders can do to build relationships and increase staff and volunteer engagement?

  1. View every person as special and with the talents to make unique and needed contributions to the workplace.
  2. Communicate your belief in others and help them see their potential to make significant contributions by using their talents.
  3. Help them develop their talents and navigate to roles where they can be even more successful.
  4. Connect with their heart by affirming their efforts and contributions. Everyone wants to feel needed, valued, and like they are making an important contribution.
  5. Listen to their ideas and implement them where possible. Every person wants to be heard. For many of us listening is a sacrifice. We have to suffer to stay in the moment and truly hear what the other person is sharing. But the payoff is huge in building a relationship.

My Relational Leader Example

I was chosen to fly the 3,000th combat mission of the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Danang with our commander Col. Bob Maloy (left).

As a 23 year old lieutenant and member of youngest generation in the Vietnam era, I often flew combat missions with Col. Bob Maloy USAF (1924-1995), a crusty veteran of World War II. He could be tough, but he always treated me like I was an important person. I always prepared and performed at my best when I was around him—first because he believed in me and treated me with respect and then because he was our wing commander, a colonel on his way to general and twenty years my senior. Ken Blanchard also expressed this behavior very simply,

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”


So what has been your experience with leading with power versus leading through relationships? Which is best and why? Please share your comments.


Lee Ellis is the president of Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting and coaching company/ Lee consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, team building, human performance, and succession planning.  A retired Air Force Colonel, his latest award-winning leadership book about his Vietnam POW experience is entitled Engage with Honor: Building a Culture of Courageous Accountability. Learn more at


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