The Stewardship of Influence
When I was a child, an adult said to me, “You are a born leader.” I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I liked the idea. I knew I liked being in front and being in charge. I was extremely responsible, and people often did what I asked them to do. At 11 years old, I thought I had leadership figured out.
As an adult, I unintentionally fell into several leadership roles. I did what I saw others do, but my leadership wasn’t particularly beneficial to the people I led. I did get results, but it wasn’t pretty. One day after a challenging encounter with a staff member, I decided there must be a better way.
I looked for a successful leader who modeled the qualities I wanted – and I was fortunate to find one. This leader had a gentle way with people. He held those he led accountable without crushing them. He helped others move forward while still accomplishing results. This leader helped me understand that leadership wasn’t about me, being in charge or using people to reach my own goals.
Though he was twenty-five years my senior, this leader was willing to mentor me. He saw qualities in me that I had not seen in myself, and his influence totally changed the direction of my life. As a strong man of faith, he also helped me see his model for leadership – Jesus of Nazareth, the Model who made all the difference.
I came to believe that leadership is influence: influencing the thinking, behavior or development of another person. Therefore, we are all leaders in our life roles as parents, grandparents or community leaders, as well as in organizational settings.
I was satisfied with my definition and understanding of leadership, but then I heard the phrase “the stewardship of influence.” As a child, I had been taught to be a good steward of money, possessions, and talents – but no one mentioned influence. Since I identified leadership as influence, the importance of being a steward of my influence grabbed my thinking.
Understanding that a “steward” is simply the manager of an owner’s assets, I began to think about my influence in relationship to my belief that we are all created by God for a purpose, that God loves everyone and has a great plan. For the first time, I realized I am a steward of the people under my care, whether in my family or on my team, to help them accomplish everything God has called them to do and be. I began to define stewardship as everything we do after we say, “I believe” and “stewardship of influence” as “the choice to take responsibility for our influence to affect and impact others.”
I have met some leaders who have consciously chosen to link leadership and stewardship in all the ways they have influence.
I think of Michael Cardone, Jr. and his great company, Cardone Industries, an auto parts remanufacturer out of Philadelphia. Cardone’s values are 1) Honor God in all we do, 2) Help people develop, 3) Pursue excellence and 4) Grow profitably. I once asked Michael how he could integrate these strong values into a multi-cultural, 6,000-plus member workforce. He said, “They can’t argue with love. When people know you care about them and want to help them develop, they work at a different level, and everything changes.”
Truett Cathy, the late founder of Chick-fil-A, was another leader who chose to be a steward of his influence. Not only did he impact the people who worked at Chick-fil-A in a positive way, but countless numbers of others who came into their restaurants and the thousands who were affected by his generosity. Truett Cathy’s legacy continues to be modeled and lived out through his family and in the leadership of his son, Dan Cathy, who now serves as chairman, president and CEO of Chick-fil-A.
The choice to be a steward of influence can be found in centuries old writings. In Psalm 72, Solomon asked for influence. He was the wealthiest, wisest, and most powerful person at that time and he was asking for more influence. At first it seems self-serving until we read why. King Solomon wanted to help the oppressed, care for the poor and defend the defenseless. He literally wanted influence so that he could provide influence for those who had none. King Solomon wanted to use his influence to impact people’s lives.
Countless other examples can be found throughout Scripture and history of leaders who have been incredible stewards of all they have been given. Their impact has been enormous.
We have that same opportunity. How will you use your influence today?
By Phyllis Hennecy Hendry