I shouldn’t be surprised that so many leaders want to have more influence and impact on others' lives. Frankly, I'm not one who gets bothered when people ask me to help them increase their influence (become a speaker, get published, or communicate widely). That drive, I think, is what we want to see; it's evidence of an entrepreneurial drive, of a desire to have maximum influence. I get it. Of course, the embedded danger in that our drive is less about influencing others and more about being ‘known’ within our particular circle or group.

Leaders are a group of forward-thinking people wired for maximum impact. Often driven to not waste their days, leader-types want to make as big of a splash as possible. We want to do something that matters.  The problem is that we may not have a clear understanding of what makes the biggest splash. We confuse popularity with leadership. We equate being known with having influence. They're not often the same.

Often what does make the biggest “splash” comes at the expense of being known by others as a splash-maker. Like the cannonball artist at a pool party, too often in leadership and ministry it's not that we're jumping in, but we want others to notice that we're doing so… and recognize our splash as bigger than the next person's splash.

We’re in an age where authors and speakers are taught, and rightly so (most of the time), that they need to have a ‘platform.’  Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner describes a platform as, “It’s the way you, the author, will get your name and your book in front of potential consumers.” And, if you have a message that you want to deliver in multiple ‘worlds,’ you need to be diligent to do that. With limited marketing budgets, speaker/authors have to take it on ourselves to get the word out about our books, podcasts, and speaking availability.

The problem with platform thinking is that leaders and people in ministry confuse the marketing-oriented platform as their work. It's not. And too soon, we begin to see our effectiveness in people work as having a bigger splash when the long-term impact is found in a different end of the pool, often where no one notices.

Here’s the secret:  The ‘platform’ splash isn’t as big as it seems. Those ripples fade fast.  The cannonball guy can make people go WOW (not always out of admiration, mind you) and then 3 seconds later they’re looking for the next person to jump or they turn back to their conversations at the pool party. The platform has a ‘look what I can do’ aspect to it.  Just like in Hollywood (which moves quickly to the next star), in leadership a new person will come along to our place to write the next book, lead the next organization, and be the ‘thought leader’ in a particular field.

Here are 5 ways you and I can make the biggest splash, one with ripples that will continue for decades:  

  1. Model up close how to be faithful, vibrant, and charitable.
  2. Lead and minister with integrity, even when no one is looking… because they are looking.
  3. Encourage and invest in others' success.
  4. Be diligent to listen to the desires of those around you.
  5. Pray with others about things important to them.

I am sure you can add more, but you’ll make the biggest ‘splash’ with your life through ripples of modeling and mentoring that will extend for generations.

In contrast to the cannonball, this type of influence looks like hanging on the side of the pool, kicking the water for a while. The others around you eventually join your kicking and the waves become even stronger. Soon you find a small group making massive ripples that last and last, splashing the people talking around the pool repeatedly. So much so that they can't ignore what you're doing. Those splashes are different from the guy who runs up to the diving board, shouts “look at me” before jumping and cannon-balls single splash.

Platforms aren’t necessarily bad, in my opinion, but they need to have a purpose, mission, or message beyond just gaining us just a bigger platform. Of course, ironically, this blog is part of my platform. I get that. But this blog or much of my ‘upfront’ work (speaking, writing) won’t be how people “evaluate” my work at the end of my days. People will reflect on character, not our creations, they will talk of relationships not reach, and they will remember our faithfulness to and love for our family.  Family, colleagues, and those we lead/teach/mentor/disciple … people are the biggest splashes we make. And it's difficult to do that when you're standing on a platform above them.

Jump in and get kicking!

Photo by Ryan Dickey