On Leadership and Maintaining Moral Authority

by Adam McClendon June 28, 2016

Effective leadership flows out of various forms of authority. Some of the different types of authority that exists in our society include:

Positional (Legal) Authority. This authority is based on the ability to reward or punish someone where leverage exists. Examples include bosses, parents, police, and teachers.

Expert Authority. This authority is based on someone’s expertise in a specific field of knowledge. Examples include pastors, architects, investors, and relators.

Class Authority. This authority has only a perceived position. People in higher economic classes have influence in our culture over those of less affluence. People often deem them as important and want their respect. Examples include celebrities, politicians, business owners, and extremely wealthy people.

Consensus Authority. This authority is given when a group allows someone to take the lead out. This authority is not always based on position or authority, and at times given in order to avoid conflict, get something done, or to accomplish a worthy goal with the cumulative efforts of the group. Examples include peers in the workplace, volunteer workers, local business organizations.

However, more significant and influential than any of the above authorities is our moral authority.

Moral Authority. This authority involves living out one’s convictions: traditionally referred to as “having character.” It’s most evident when words and actions line up especially in the face of difficulty when compromise is easiest. It is the moral imperative that is consistently evident in someone’s life. Such moral integrity helps to gain respect and influence in our culture; however, when our moral authority is compromised it undercuts our influence and ability to lead.

Thoughts on Moral Authority

Perhaps the greatest opportunity for a person to effect real change comes from lived out conviction not position. When one’s moral authority is lost, it has a devastating impact on his or her leadership. Here is an acronym to help us develop and maintain our moral authority: T.A.R.G.E.T.

T: True North 

We need to know where “True North” is an maintain our heading. Think of a compass. What keeps us flying straight? What keeps us on course? For the Christian it is the Bible illuminated and applied to the heart by the Spirit of God.

A: Accountability

We need people in our lives who will hold us accountable. We need people who will help us maintain our moral authority and let us know where our lives and speech are out of alignment.

R: Restrictions

We need to place restrictions in our lives to help us avoid certain temptations that would compromise our moral authority. As a matter-of-fact, we need to avoid situations that would provide the appearance of impropriety.

G: Gumption

We need that deep-gutted, inner conviction that is committed to righteous living. We need to live in such a way that people may question what we are doing, but never why we are doing it. We need people who will live with such consistency that even when people disagree with us, they respect us because of the core belief that is evident in our actions.

E: Evaluation

We need to inspect ourselves. We not only need insight from others, but occasionally we need to hold the mirror up and look into it. Getting alone and reflecting on some insightful, thought-provoking, reflective questions can be helpful.

T: Transparency

We need a humble transparency where we are honest with others about our shortcomings and struggles. We don’t need more leaders trying to convince the world they have it all figured out; rather, we need more leaders acknowledging their frailty and living honestly with humility before the world.