How to Become More of the Positive Influence You Want to Be

For those of you who serve in leadership positions within the Church, what is your desire for and purpose of your service? I hope that it is that you will be a positive influence in the lives of those you serve.

Given that answer, are you being the positive influence that you want to be and are you having the positive impact that you want to be having or even could be having? My guess is that you feel you are a positive influence in the lives of others to a certain degree, but that you could be having a greater impact than what is occurring right now.

I jump to that assumption because (1) I know from my personal experiences that I could have done things better in current and prior positions, and (2) I know that general statistics associated with leadership (largely from the business community) suggest that most leaders could be having a stronger and more positive influence than what they are having. I think you will find these statistics eye-opening:

  • Between 33% and 51% of leaders act destructively (Aasland, Skogstad, Notelaers, Nielsen, Einarsen, 2010). An example of this is Carly Fiorina, who lavished herself with bonuses and perks while terminating thousands to reduce costs.
  • 37% of respondents believe those who hold leadership positions fail to achieve their position’s objectives (Howard Wellins, 2009)
  • 51% of employees don’t trust their senior leaders (FranklinCovey)
  • 64% of employees don’t believe their top managers act with honesty and integrity (FranklinCovey)

So, how do leaders go about becoming more of the positive influence that we want to be?

I believe that the answer to that question is complex, but a natural first step is to learn more about leadership and what it takes to be a good leader. This learning can come in many forms (e.g., having a coach/mentor, reading or listening to leadership material, failure), each of which varies in its quality and effectiveness. Let me briefly discuss how we might want to think about learning and developing as a leader through reading leadership material (as that is a primary purpose of Leading Saints).

In this article, I hope to be able to summarize a couple leadership principles from the leadership literature that I believe are foundational to leaders becoming the positive influence that they hope to be.

First, it is important to define leadership. While there are hundreds of leadership definitions out there. The one that is most frequently used and the one that I like best is: the power and influence to direct others to goal achievement.

To help us better understand what this definition means, let me focus on two facets of this definition:

  1. Power and influence
  2. Directing others to goal achievement

Power and Influence

The word “power” is often viewed negatively, particularly in the context of leadership. But the reality is that there are multiple types of power, some of which are more negative and some of which are more positive.

One type of power is organizational power. Organizational power is the power one holds by virtue of the position of leadership that they hold. One holds organizational power when they hold a position of authority, hold the ability to reward, and hold the ability to punish. When someone leads using organizational power, you might see them saying/doing the following:

  • “Because I am your father, that is why!”
  • “If you do this, I will give you a reward.”
  • “If you do that, you may be punished.”
  • “As bishop of this ward…”

Organizational power is obtained almost instantaneous by being placed in a formal leadership position, and it takes relatively little effort to yield. All one must do is offer rewards and/or punishments as motivators for action and performance.

Another type of power is individual power. Individual power is the power one holds by virtue of who they are. One holds individual power when they are someone that others want to associate with, and/or holds expertise that others want to draw upon. Individual power is more difficult to obtain than organizational power. We obtain individual power by becoming someone that others want to follow, which generally takes time over repeated interactions, and there is often less certainty in whether individual power will elicit motivation to action and performance compared to the use of organizational power.

While each type of power can be successfully employed in leading others to goal achievement, the experience of being led by someone that primarily yields organizational power is very different from the experience of being led by someone that primarily yields individual power. Commonly, followers follow leaders with organizational power because they HAVE to, and followers follow leaders with individual power because they WANT to. A classic example of the difference between organizational power and personal power is from the movie Gladiator, in which a slave with no organizational power demonstrates that he is more powerful/influential than Caesar, the person with as much organizational power possible, but very little individual power.

Another example of the power of organizational power is King Benjamin. It appears that he tried to reduce his organizational power by being self-reliant, and it also appears that many people came to hear him speak not because they were coerced to, but because of their respect for King Benjamin. I truly believe that the hearts of the people wouldn’t or even couldn’t have been positively changed if he led with organizational power.

If leaders within the church want to be the positive influence in the lives of others that they can be, leaders like King Benjamin, they must build and lead with personal power. This means that they need to become people that others want to follow, not because of the position they hold, but because of who they are.

Directing Others to Goal Achievement

A leader is someone who guides others to a destination. This is a primary way leaders are a positive influence in the lives of others. They take them to a place that is beneficial for them, possibly a place they may not go otherwise.

Unfortunately, I believe this is an area where stake and ward leaders do not receive a lot of support, and thus they commonly struggle.

When a person is put into a leadership position within a group or organization, that leader generally takes on one specific focus out of two primary options. Comparing leaders to a captain of a ship, their options are to primarily focus on either (1) getting the ship to a destination or (2) keeping the ship afloat.

There are pros and cons to either focus. If getting the ship to a destination is the focus, such a focus is inspirational and the accomplishment is incredibly rewarding, but it is risky. It often means going beyond what we can see and what we have experienced. If keeping the ship afloat is the focus, such a focus is safe, yet it is largely uninspiring and there is largely no movement, no progress. I would argue that just keeping the ship afloat is not leadership, it is merely quality control.

I think the story of Lehi and his family is a great example of this point. Lehi was seeking to lead his family to a destination. If he was concerned about all of the things that could have gone wrong along the way, he never would have started his journey, or he easily would have given up.

From my experience, most church leaders are primarily concerned about keeping the ship afloat as opposed to directing the ship to a specific destination. They are more concerned about preventing leaks and fixing any leaks than they are about where they are currently located and where they need to go, their desired destination. This is manifest in a story I once heard where a Seventy’s advice for a new bishop was to not do anything that would require an addition to the church handbook. While I am surely not advocating that church leaders do things that will require an addition to the church handbook; I am suggesting that if the primary focus of the leader is to not do anything wrong, that leader will largely be uninspiring, and not a leader in the sense of guiding others to a destination or goal achievement.

So, to become a leader that guides others to a destination, you must know where your stake/ward/unit/quorum/society stands and have a clear vision of where the stake/ward/unit/quorum/society needs to go, and resources need to be put towards that emphasis. Yet, it is far too easy and convenient to devote resources to just making sure things are not falling apart or are running smoothly.


The motto of Leading Saints is “Be a leader, not a calling.” If you want to be a leader within the sphere of your calling, someone who reaches their potential in being a blessing in the lives of those they have stewardship over, here are a couple things to consider:

  1. Become someone that others want to follow because of who you are rather than the position you hold
  2. Identify a purpose, a goal, a destination that you want to lead others toward and dedicate consistent time and resources to that focus. Do not fall back into the temptation of solely just keeping the boat afloat.


Ryan Gottfredson currently lives in Anaheim, California. In his ward, he is currently serving as the Sunday School president. Ryan holds a Ph.D. in organizational behavior and human resources. From 2014-2016, he was an assistant professor of management at Cal State Fullerton, teaching and conducting research on leadership. He has published multiple academic articles on the topic, most recently in the Journal of Organizational Behavior. He now works as a consultant and workplace analyst for Gallup, a consulting company that specializes in management development.

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