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Are you wise with your buckets of influence?

| by Mike Mowery

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 meanleader 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 God preserved the wisdom of leaders through the ages, who learned through trials and tribulations into succinct, but potent doses. 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 (NASB95)

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?”

Photo source: istock 


Mike Mowery

Dr. Mike Mowery is the President of Servant Leadership Implementation for SGR, a leadership development company that develops leaders for local governments. He is a graduate of Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Gateway Seminary. Mike has been a student of leadership for over 25 years. He has pastored churches in Colorado and Texas and now serves as an interim pastor. He has a passion for helping leaders be more successful through encouragement, love, and truth. Mike and his wife, Mary Beth, live in Grapevine, Texas, and have three grown children and two young granddaughters.



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This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.
Isaiah 48:17 (NLT)
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