leading with moral authority

Posted on 9:00 AM by dave

To be honest, the first time I heard this phrase meaningfully contextualized was in a podcast by Andy Stanley during a teaching series called "Letters to the Next President."  Up to that point in my life, I had never properly wrapped words around this type of behavior yet it is one that I often found myself drawn to emulate.

The first time I witnessed someone lead with moral authority it felt so... foreign.  I wasn't sure if I should make them stop or just continue to stand there all slack jawed with my mouth on the ground.  I am sure that I had observed others lead this way previously but none of them had the impact in my life that Russ did.

Russ was quite the character too.  His life story plays out like a well written cinematic adventure of highs, lows, women, sex, drugs, rehab, A.A., success, failure... I could literally keep going on and on.  I wasn't drawn to him as a role model because of the wild life that he once led.  I was drawn to him because of how he led those under his supervision.

Russ led with moral authority.  That is to say, he did what he said that he would do.  Furthermore, he did not expect anyone else to do what he wasn't willing to do himself.
This radically impacted how I have chosen to lead others for the past 20 years.

The first time I met Russ he was in dingy, dirty clothes sitting on a bench in the clubhouse of the golf course that I was hoping would be my answer to summer employment.  He had been painting the walls of the golf shop and had seemingly been involved in some minor carpentry as well due to the faint smell of saw dust in the air.  My suspicions were later confirmed during our conversation.

I had aspirations of being hired as a lifeguard that summer.  Russ was the person that I was to meet with for my interview although he was the golf professional and had very little to do with the pool.  Little did I know that Russ was not interviewing me for the pool but was looking for help with the golf shop.  

This encounter changed everything.

In the five years that I mentored under Russ, he was always willing to do the hard work;  he was always willing to be the first to get his hands dirty.  In fact, if there was ever a question of where to find him is was rarely that he was out playing on the golf course or sitting at his desk.  Very typically you could find him strapping golf clubs onto a cart, cleaning out the carts after golfers were done playing, taking out the trash, or walking  to get more hand carts (which most people run at his pace).  When more soda or beer was needed on the course, Russ would get it and then stock it.  When the grille became the golf shop personnel's responsibility, Russ was the first one to become a short order chef.  

Russ led with moral authority.

We live in a culture where the supervisors and leaders no longer need to get their hands dirty nor do they need to do the "little" jobs.  However, if we want to lead the next generation of leaders we must be willing to inform them of our authority by our actions and not just our words.  We must be willing to say, "I will not lead you anywhere I am not willing to go myself."  We must be willing to kneel down and serve our servants if we are going to be given the authority to lead others.

We live in a world where "Do as I say and not as I do" is extremely pervasive.  No longer do leaders need to be held accountable for their actions when they don't follow through.  This must not continue.  We must be willing to actually do what we say we are going to do.  The next generation of leaders can sniff out a fake, a phony from miles away.  We will only be fooling ourselves if we give in to the lie that we don't need to lead from a place of authenticity and transparency with the ability to follow through on our words with action.

I know that this might freak some people out but if we are to have any impact or any lasting influence on the leaders that we lead, we must be willing to be honest about who we are and our own inadequacies.  Then, only then, will we find ourselves surrounded by people willing to follow us in spite of our shortcomings.

We must become people of influence who are leading with moral authority.

One last thought-- Russ had a post card framed on his desk that read, "In golf, as in life, it is the follow through that counts."  May that be true of us.