Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Power & Influence

Written by: on January 24, 2015

Marykate Morse’s book, Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space, and Influence, provides actionable advice for exerting influence over others to achieve intended results. “Leadership is not something produced for certain occasions and specific roles. Leadership happens all the time, and it happens when we use our bodies to influence others.”[1] A good leader uses power effectively and influences others in a positive direction. While many books address leadership traits, this book dives into the specific ways that we can act and behave in order to catalyze a group toward change.

Power is a tool or means through which people get work completed and achieve goals. Leadership books often emphasize traits like gaining consensus, being a servant, and keeping a humble attitude. When we speak of power, we often equate this to negative attributes, as in being conceited or arrogant.   Yet, “Power is God’s gift. Powerlessness is not a virtue; rather, using power to help the powerless is. This is the true meaning of servant leadership. Jesus modeled this use of power over and over. If each member of his body is bold enough to use his or her power for good, then the negative use of power will become less frequent in the church and in the world.”[2] In the secular world, I’ve seen power at play in a variety of ways and settings. It is typically obvious when someone uses power to attain their personal objectives, but it is the leaders who know how to tap into their power for the greater good that are able to accomplish amazing things. Often times, people use power to compete with others. As I’ve worked in Christian organizations, I’ve noticed that many in leadership roles back away from leading. They don’t want to be seen as competitive or overbearing. In each of these spaces, the role of leadership is often defined through our false perceptions of how leaders should act and behave. Competition can be both healthy and destructive.  I Corinthians 9:24 says “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it.”   It is a human trait that God has blessed man with in order to help him move forward or pursue excellence. Unhealthy competition can lead to destruction.  2 Timothy 2:5 reminds us that, “an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”   Competition is unhealthy when individuals put their own goals over the greater goals of a company or team.  They seek self-satisfaction at the expense of others, and are willing to make shortcuts or to break the rules in order to win.  This can lead to unethical actions or even bring harm to an organization or others.  Healthy competition may lead to benefit for the individual, but it also promotes positive interaction with others and encourages them to work to their best ability.  Philippians 2:3-4 says to “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you not only look to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  Healthy competition is derived from right intentions and attitudes.  Matthew 6:33 tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  We must focus on Christ and follow His Word to ensure our actions and behaviors are in alignment with Scripture.  When we do this, we aren’t focused on personal gain and our efforts will bring honor to Christ, and benefit organizations and others.  With this in mind, many leaders struggle with being competitive and asserting power in a manner that honors Christ. They attempt unhealthy means to get others to accept their ideas. When we sense how power plays out in situations, or spaces, we can more effectively influence for Christ. “How leaders use power in close quarters is a more significant indication of integrity than what they do or say from a pulpit or speaker’s platform.”[3]

Having presence is something that connects us to others in a relational way. Morse uses Princess Diana as an example of one who had the capacity to attract others toward herself and her beliefs. She calls this the “it” factor. “Presence is deeply connected to power. The more presence you have, the more influencing capacity you have. People with presence have the ability to walk into a room and get the attention and respect of its occupants.”[4]  They don’t need to compete with others in an unhealthy manner, as their very presence speaks into the space. Jesus used his presence to influence others. “Presence is the visual and visceral effect our bodies have on others. Those with a strong presence are instinctively given more power to influence.” [5] “Creating presence isn’t about glitzy manipulation for personal benefit. It’s about attentive awareness for the benefit of others. Deciphering presence gives us another resource for taking responsibility for the power that comes with it. The human body is part of the leadership process. It cannot be ignored, especially in group settings.” [6] Personally, the concept of presence has been very real. Being a 4’11’’ female, I’ve been in business situations where I’ve struggled to gain influence or to share my knowledge. Over the course of my career, I’ve adjusted the way that I interact in a physical space, the way that I dress, and my demeanor in order to be more effective with the information I am presenting. I’ve had comments as “you are so young”, which often equates to a lack of wisdom or knowledge in some people’s eyes. Recently, a business associate asked me if I knew how disarming my presence was. This was the first time that I had been told this, and it came as a surprise. Being aware of this, I was able to use this trait in a difficult business meeting a few days later. I was able to influence the direction and outcome of the discussion. I’ve realized that having presence is something that I need to more intentionally work toward. To be the leader that Christ calls me to be, I must strategically learn to use my physical body and space to more fully reflect Christ to others and to motivate people and situations into a positive direction. Pope Francis said, “We must always walk in the presence of the Lord, in the light of the Lord, always trying to live in an irreprehensible way.” This is the starting point for gaining true power and presence that allows us to be influential and effective leaders.

[1] MaryKate Morse. Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence (Kindle Locations 146-147). Kindle Edition.

[2] MaryKate Morse. Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence (Kindle Locations 518-520). Kindle Edition.

[3] MaryKate Morse. Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence (Kindle Locations 680-682). Kindle Edition.

[4] MaryKate Morse. Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence (Kindle Locations 734-736). Kindle Edition.

[5] MaryKate Morse. Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence (Kindle Locations 801-803). Kindle Edition.

[6] MaryKate Morse. Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence (Kindle Locations 837-839). Kindle Edition.


About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

9 responses to “Power & Influence”

  1. Dave Young says:

    I like your conclusion; “To be the leader that Christ calls me to be, I must strategically learn to use my physical body and space to more fully reflect Christ to others and to motivate people and situations into a positive direction.” In Colossians Paul makes a similar conclusion “whatever we do, in word or in deed, do it in the name of Jesus Christ.” Col 3:17. We rarely think of our physical body when it comes to our kingdom influence but of course those words we speak, the deeds we do all are thru the physical bodies. If we’re going to be apprentices of Jesus everything, even how we communicate with our presence, needs to come under his authority. Thanks for the good post.

  2. Brian Yost says:

    It is interesting how our physical appearance influences the way others receive us, and that not everyone receives us the same way. To one person they may note that you seem young and think you are inexperienced and another person may be impressed with your disarming effect. We really need to learn to know our “audience” and read how they are receiving us. What works well in one situation may not achieve the same results in another. Years ago I had a friend who was a professional clown for the Barnum & Bailey Circus. He was incredibly talented (he could dance, juggle, and spin a ball on a stick on his nose while carrying on a conversation). He once told me how much he struggled with his weight. He was very active and had to be careful to not lose weight. He had to maintain a certain “plumpness” or his contract could be canceled. Being a successful clown required a certain physical presence that is not always appreciated in other settings. He commanded much more respect as a clown than as “Phil”. (Not Phil Struckmeyer).

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Thanks Brian, Knowing your audience is often difficult. This is where I struggle the most. It was helpful to take the Meyers-Briggs test to better understand my own traits, and identify where I am strong versus weak. My personality type is the INTJ. In social situations, INTJs tend to neglect small social rituals. For example, small talk is difficult, so I intentionally ensure that I take time to interact with people. Otherwise, it could leave the impression that I’m in a hurry or rude. Combining the Meyers-Briggs with MaryKate Morse’s insight has been extremely helpful.

  3. Travis Biglow says:

    God bless you Dawnel,

    Its important to have presence and have a vision to back it up. I have found that many leaders are more interested in presence affiliated with just their title but they lack vision and plans that are inclusive. They have exclusive agendas and try to make them seem inclusive. I played football many years and the hardest things I have found then and now is not how well we do on our own, but how we have the ability to lift others to our level. I can make all league but if we dont win the champhionship that is just personal honor. Competition in religion to me has no place. We are not ever competing in religion. Whatever God has for us is ours. We are not going to have to do anything to out do another person to get it. I feel like in my denomination at times they are always trying to out do another person. If you start a church the first thing they ask is “how many members you have?” Or are renting or buying your church? I really cant understand people sometimes we are not in this to compete we are in this to do what God has called us to do and its based on the ability that gives us in the first place. We can build from here but God gives us the gifts and some have more than others! Blessings Dawnel

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Thanks Travis…Many blessings to you as well!
      I’m not sure that God gives some people more gifts than others, but I do agree that He gives us each unique gifts. He gives us these gifts so that we can perform our duties in the greater body of Christ. We each have a part to play and should play it well, without trying to outperform each other. I think the problem is that we often influence to compete versus influencing to reflect Christ.

      • Jon spellman says:

        Dawnel, i agree. It is not uncommon for a person to use her influence in order to gain a personal advantage rather than to see Gods purposes accomplished. What would happen if we all truly used our gifts and influence without the need for personal gain? What if we (to use a Polanyi term) truly lived in a reciprocal “economy” of influence?

        I dont know if that will ever be possible on this side of eternity…


  4. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Nice post Dawnel. Your thoughts got me thinking about “authentic” leadership. I have always been a bit gun shy to the strategic leadership positions in meetings and interactions and such and have felt challenged by my thoughts and motives sometimes. I would say recently, more as a second nature move, I noticed how I selected my seating position differently, selecting for what seemed appropriate for the situation. It is funny the meetings were basically with the same people in the same room but I felt myself purposefully picking a different seat for each meeting based on the topic and dynamics that I thought would exist. It felt authentic but I wondered about a bit of manipulation and game playing taking place? I have a similar round of meetings this week and it will be fun to watch it through the sharpened lens of this book and your post. 🙂

  5. Mary says:

    Your point about presence (as well as MaryKate’s) reminds me of how significant the awareness of it can be used for good or bad. I’ve seen people force their “presence” on others, and then see other’s who simply use their presence as a way to honor all those involved. What a gift that the person who observed your disarming manner spoke to you about it, perhaps an affirmation of what you’ve already been discovering.

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