Leaders are often the first ones to see the body is flagging and respond by proposing new directions and inspiring new energy (which is what motivation creates in a congregation). Leaders are like batters, trying to be the course-correcting, momentum-providing force. In this regard John C. Maxwell is right when he says, “Leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less.” Influence is the bat in the hands of leaders.
At this point, however, the analogy breaks down, because psychology is not physics. According to Newton’s law, change happens through the exertion of an external force. Something has to push the baseball off its current course. This is how some church leaders understand influence. They see themselves as heroic leaders whose
role it is to stand at home plate, watched by the gathered crowd, who hope he or she will hit it out of the park. This view of leadership is all about the leader. But if psychology were operant in the physical world, then change would happen because of some internal force, which would encourage the baseball to choose for itself to have more energy, a changed direction and increased velocity all on its own. Thinking about change this way calls for a different kind of leadership, a different kind of influence and a very, very different kind of bat. Given what we know about the nature of baseballs, however, we would be left stymied and frustrated as we tried to figure out how to help the baseball to change its mind and choose its own new direction.
Congregational leadership can feel much the same, but it is in this very endeavor that motivation psychology provides such substantial help. We live in a culture today that is fully-democratized and consumer-oriented, in which people believe they have the autonomous power of individual choice. Change happens when persons come to have sufficient motives held with sufficient strength that they develop intentions to do new things and then act on their intentions. Leaders who know the basics of motivation psychology understand how to help people to make such choices.
Helen Keller overcame physical challenges that most of us would believe to be insurmountable. She once said, “Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” Decades later psychologist Rick Snyder described the very same conditions for motivated action in his Hope Theory. For people to choose change they have to believe that something can be done to make change happen (which fosters hope) and that they are capable of doing it (which creates confidence). The role of motivational leadership, in part, is to help people grow in their hope and confidence. With such positive attributes, a congregation can see a new goal as challenging, but also attainable.
Motives, intentions, choices, hopefulness and confidence: these are the qualities that lead to motivated action. They may not be able to change a baseball’s direction and momentum, but they can for a congregation.