I remember Andy Stanley writing about this idea of moral authority. Basically every leader has two ‘badges.’ One of them is visible: your position, your title, your office. Its the one everyone sees. Its what causes people to follow you not necessarily because they want to, but because they have to in order to get paid.
But then there is another invisible badge. Its your moral authority. It is the respect and devotion that you command from people without demanding it, but from a strength of character. It happens when a leader’s convictions are aligned with her behavior… and this makes her life persuasive. Its the credibility you learn by walking your talk. Nothing can compensate for a lack of moral authority: not discipline, not communication abilities, not talents, not charisma, and not education. We all know plenty of people with these qualities that have no influence over us whatsoever…
Its the most important part of leadership, of life, of parenting, of relating to people. It takes a lifetime to earn and a moment to lose. Moral authority is absolutely critical to everything that we do. A couple thoughts this morning about moral authority:
Moral authority is earned by walking your talk. I think of moral authority in terms of saving up money. Every time you make a decision that is in line with your values, denying your impulse, you put away a little bit of change. It is this quality of moral excellence that becomes currency in your pocket to be spent later on. Every time you put someone else before you, you earn it. Every time you serve selflessly you earn it. Every time you say no to good things in order to get great things, you earn it. Every time you choose to delay gratification in the moment to get it in the long run, you earn it. Every decision you make is saving up moral authority.
Moral authority is unimaginably fragile. The slightest compromise or inconsistency can deal a mortal blow to a person’s moral authority. That’s why it is absolutely critical to guard it. No one will allow themselves to be influenced by someone without moral authority, so we ought to watch over this even more than we watch over the vision.
Building moral authority requires three things: character, sacrifice, and time. Character simply means surrendering to God’s will for your life. It means allowing God to change your heart as a leader. It means devoting yourself to engaging in the disciplines that place yourself in a position to be changed by God. By sacrifice, I mean that as a leader, you have to lead the way. You have to sacrifice more than anyone else. No one will invest more in the vision than the one who originally cast the vision. Your sacrifice gives people an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what is in the leader’s heart. Also time: moral authority requires experience. The more opportunities you get to make decisions that align with values, the more credible you become.