So much has changed since I first began teaching about leadership. Once upon a time, leadership wasn’t the buzzword it is today. In fact, when I first started teaching about leadership, everyone else was talking about management.
Management was all about titles, stability, and positional authority. Leadership is different — it’s about influence, adaptability, and moral authority. Managers are given responsibility; leaders earn respect. I want to talk to you today about how leaders earn that respect.
I want to talk about developing moral authority as a leader.
You see, moral authority is a weightiness, a sense of wisdom and experience that encourages other people to put their trust in you. A leader with moral authority is someone who has turned time into an ally — over time, a leader with moral authority has proven to be consistently competent, have consistent character, and shown consistent courage.
There’s a common theme in that sentence — consistency.
I talk a lot about consistency because it’s been the key to my leadership success. In fact, it’s one of the things that surprises me most about leadership. If you do the right things the right way for the right reasons when you’re young, it often goes unnoticed by the world at large.
But do that over decades? You’ll get more credit than you think you deserve.
I’ve been consistent in my personal growth, my teaching, my character, my thinking, my writing — and because of that, I’ve been able to stay in the game for over 40 years. I call it layered living. The benefits and gains from year to year work together to produce a life of leadership that others want to learn from.
That’s the funny thing about the leadershift to moral authority — in a fast-forward world, where we face daily change and disruption, our people are looking for a leader who can provide stability. It is the task of the leader to be flexible enough to change while being trustworthy enough to provide hope. Flexibility and trust are achieved through consistency.
To go back to my earlier point, there are three areas where leaders must become consistent if they wish to earn moral authority:
- Competence. This is the ability to lead well. Making smart decisions, knowing your people, understanding your field, and committing to personal growth are all examples of competence. Leaders who demonstrate that they know what they’re doing — and that they learn from their mistakes — establish themselves as a leader worth following.
- Courage. This is moving forward in the face of fear. A well-known adage states that courage is not the absence of fear, but the presence of mind to act when afraid. Every leader needs courage to make hard decisions, needed changes, and cast vision.
- Character. This is being bigger on the inside than the outside. Leaders of character know that who they are is more than what they achieve. Character is a commitment to continual growth in the areas of integrity, authenticity, humility, and love.
When I was in my early 30s, I decided to do five things to make myself a better leader: always put people first; live to make a difference, not to make money; be myself, but be my best self possible; express gratitude — reject entitlement; and be willing to be misunderstood and lonely for the right reasons.
I made the commitment to live out those five things, not because I saw them as means to an end, but because I felt they were simply the right things to do. I’ve worked hard to follow those guidelines for the last 40 years, and I’ve been blessed to see a great return on that decision.
In the end, you don’t get to grant yourself moral authority. Only others can do that. But you can strive for it — and you should. In a shifting world, leaders with moral authority become a foundation for others to build upon.
It’s a leadershift worth making.