John Maxwell has made popular this definition of leadership: “Leadership is influence. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
In trying to illustrate that definition, I often use this metaphor: Every leader has two buckets. In one hand is a bucket of water; in the other, a bucket of gasoline. Empowered leaders know when to use each bucket. Ineffective leaders do not. The way you use each bucket is the way you influence individuals, groups and situations.
When a wise leader faces a situation that’s volatile and tense, he or she doesn’t pour gasoline upon it. That’s a situation where cooler heads need to prevail. That calls for a bucket of water so that you can put that fire out.
Imagine the damage that’s created when a disruptive, dysfunctional or downright mean leader comes into a volatile setting and just adds to it! That’s pouring gasoline on a fire, and it won’t be long before it’s worse than ever.
On the other hand, not all fires need to be put out. We’ve probably all seen times when a person in the organization gets really excited about the new vision, the new challenges or the new opportunities ‒ only to have someone “pour cold water” all over their aspirations. It may have even happened to you. That’s when an empowering leader uses her bucket of gasoline. That’s a situation that calls for encouragement and enthusiasm!
Everyone has both buckets in their possession. Good leaders know when to use the right bucket. We’ve all seen good examples and some bad examples. I see some leaders who are definitely pouring water where it needs to be, but I also see leaders who seem to be merely agitating others ‒ pouring gasoline upon already tense situations.
Leadership isn’t an easy task and many times there aren’t easy answers. We need leaders who know which bucket to use in each situation.
The Bible has plenty of counsel for leaders, particularly in the book of Proverbs. It’s as if through the ages God preserved in succinct but potent doses the wisdom of leaders who learned through trials and tribulations. For example, this proverb pictures two leaders. One knows how to use her buckets. The other one clearly doesn’t.
There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18 NASB)
The most important thing for you to do as a leader is to use your influence to promote fairness, lawfulness, peace, empathy and real prosperity for everyone. Romans 14:17 reminds us that the foundation of the kingdom of God is “… righteousness, peace, and joy.” How to further those things in every situation should be the driving passion of good leaders?
There is a popular commercial that poses the question, “What’s in your wallet?” As a leader, perhaps the more pertinent question to ask yourself before you rush into action is, “What’s in your bucket?”
Pause and Reflect:
How often must we admit that we’ve it backwards?!
- When have you quenched something that needed affirmation?
- When have you only fanned the flames of an argument or dispute?
Get with a trusted friend to discuss this – and pray together about it.
This article originally appeared here.