Jenni-Catron_Rec-ReadsMy reading pile always has a leadership book or two. If you’re like me, you’ve probably noticed that after you read a dozen or so of the most popular and respected books on leadership development, you start to see similar patterns and arguments. Many of the books sound alike. So whenever I pick up a book on leadership that says something unique, I stop skimming and start reading.

My copy of Jenni Catron’s book Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence (Thomas Nelson, 2014) is all marked up with sentences I’ve underlined and notes I’ve made in the margins. Jenni spent years in the Christian music business, she served alongside Pete Wilson at an influential Nashville church – Cross Point, and she is now on the leadership team at Menlo Park, where John Ortberg is pastor. Today, she joins me on the blog for a conversation about stewarding our gifts and influence for the good of God’s people.

Trevin Wax: You define “clout” as “the influence that God has given to you and to no one else.” Leadership impact is determined by how you manage this clout. Why is it important to know the particular ways God has gifted and called you?

Jenni Catron: I believe that God has designed each of us to impact the world in a way that no one else can. You have a specific purpose – a calling – that only you are qualified to fulfill. The unique combination of your gifts, talents, experiences and opportunities equips you to lead and influence those around you unlike anyone else.

I like Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Galatians 6:4-5:

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”

This truth brought to life for me the significance of understanding our influence. God challenges us to “make a careful exploration” of who He has made us to be so that we can do our “creative best” with the life He’s called us to lead. Knowing how God has gifted you and understanding His calling for you is critical to unleashing your clout.

Your God-given influence is a gift to you and others. We need you to thrive so that you can help others thrive.

Trevin Wax: I appreciated the way in which you distinguished between different ways “clout” will manifest itself. The arena of influence may be different. Billy Graham has influenced more people than an ordinary pastor. The key is to recognize that we have significant impact on the people around us, no matter how large the arena of influence. How do you encourage and challenge people who wish they had a bigger arena of influence?

Jenni Catron: It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others, but in doing so we miss what God wants to do through us. When we fixate on what someone else is accomplishing, we squander the opportunities right in front of us.

Influence has a ripple effect. We never know who might be impacted by our investment. I’m sure there were people who had a significant influence on Billy Graham’s early life. Little did they know that being faithful to invest in this young leader would result in tidal waves of influence for generations to come.

We never know how God is using us; so be faithful to steward the opportunities and the relationships He’s given you right now. When we can find peace with the gifts that we’ve been given and aren’t tempted to compare ourselves with others at every turn, we begin to enjoy the freedom and purpose of living from our unique God-given influence.

Trevin Wax: I was struck by your candid confessions of vulnerability and insecurity throughout this book. In almost every chapter, as you deal with certain “clout-killers,” you speak from personal experience as having manifested many of these negative character traits (jealousy, insecurity, fear, etc.). Why do you think it’s important to lead from a position of weakness, not just trumpet your strengths?

Jenni Catron: I believe that leaders must lead themselves well to lead others better. Leading ourselves well includes taking a hard look in the mirror to identify our weaknesses. Leading from this place of vulnerability allows me to be honest with myself and others. It forces me to humbly acknowledge where I need to grow and what I need to learn.

In his book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer says it this way:

“Good leadership comes from people who have penetrated their own inner darkness and arrived at the place where we are at one with one another, people who can lead the rest of us to place of ‘hidden wholeness’ because they have been there and know the way.”

I think people appreciate this in leaders today. We don’t need to go to an unhealthy self-deprecating extreme but humble transparency is refreshing. Honest leaders are simply willing to acknowledge where they need to grow, admit when they’ve gotten it wrong and reflect a desire to keep growing to get it right.

Trevin Wax: When you talk about the paralyzing nature of fear, you mention how often the Bible contains the phrase, “Don’t be afraid.” My favorite line in the book – “God doesn’t say, ‘Do not be afraid. You’ve got this!’ He says, ‘Do not be afraid. I’ve got this.”” You write about your church’s leadership during the Nashville flood of 2010. What did you learn from this experience about confronting fear?

Jenni Catron: The Nashville flood was a defining moment for me as a leader. Everything in me wanted to hunker down with my family, watch the dramatic news footage and eat comfort food until everything was alright. But that wasn’t what God was asking us to do. People needed help and they needed hope and someone needed to step up to fill in the gap.

I learned through that experience that we often confront our greatest fear at the crossroads of influence. We face our greatest fear at the threshold of our greatest opportunity to make an impact.

Because our church leaders were willing to confront our own fears, we were able to make a significant impact in our city. We earned influence that may not have come any other way. It was an opportunity for our faith to grow as we experienced God’s work through us in spite of our own fear.

Trevin Wax: Another great insight in your book – “Comparison twists what should be unique about us into something that we are either grossly dissatisfied with or disproportionately proud of.” How does the comparison trap lead to a leadership train wreck in either of these two directions?

Jenni Catron: For most of my life I thought comparison was the way to navigate the world – see what others are doing, compare that to my life, make adjustments, and compare again. I believed that comparison was a necessary skill for survival in a world that compares and competes over everything. The problem with comparison is that it doesn’t end with a simple sizing up. Our temptation to compare distracts us from being who God has called us to be.

The pendulum swing of comparison has us envying one person one minute and then diminishing the value of another the next. In one direction we can fixate on what we don’t have and how we don’t measure up. This type of comparison leads to jealousy, envy, greed, dissatisfaction, and ungratefulness. We wind up feeling grossly inadequate.

In the other direction, comparison leads to pride. We begin to see ourselves above others and consciously or not diminish the value of others. Even the disciples were guilty of asking Jesus who was greatest among them (Luke 9:46-48).

Trevin Wax: Patrick Lencioni, one of my favorite writers on team dynamics and leadership, wrote the foreword and says it’s one of the best books he has ever read. How did you connect with Lencioni and why do you think he appreciated this book so much?

Jenni Catron: I connected with Patrick via a mutual friend and was ecstatic he agreed to write the foreword. Patrick works with leaders and their teams all over the country and I think he sees firsthand the need for leaders to get more honest about the issues that hold them back personally. Patrick resonated with the idea of the “clout killers” and the need for leaders to understand how these issues might be hindering their leadership. I think that Patrick would agree that the healthier a leader is, the healthier the team will be.

Trevin Wax: Thanks for stopping by, Jenni. And thank you for writing a helpful book on leadership.