Spiritual authority

A quick follow-up to my last post on positional and personal authority, lest you think I fell off the earth.

Personal authority includes spiritual authority. Let me give you an example from the biography I’ve just finished, Hudson Taylor and Maria, about the missionary pioneers to China. Author J.C. Pollock tries to parse the incredible influence of this frail, slight, poor and often-sick man so dedicated to his vision. Here’s how one of Taylor’s early recruits with the China Inland Mission puts it: “His strong yet quiet faith in the promises of Scripture, his implicit confidence in God, this it was which compelled submission on my part to whatever he proposed for me.”

Taylor had no social standing, positional power or imposing stature. Instead, it was his simple faith, total dependence on God and intimate prayer life, followed by unwavering dedication to his vision, that allowed him to achieve greatness.

Isaiah says the same thing about the Christ in Isaiah 53:2:

There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him.

Jesus didn’t attract followers because of his looks. (Aside: It’s an interesting thought to me that God didn’t bestow his ultimate creation with the looks of Brad Pitt.) He didn’t attract them for his stature or his magnanimous personality. He attracted them for completely different reasons. Some of the greatest men who ever lived follow in his footsteps: you wouldn’t notice them except for their incredible following.

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Leadership requires followership

In October 2009, my shortest blog post (appropriately) asked how I could have 23 devoted Twitter followers if I’d never tweeted. The point being that you can’t follow a stationary object. Just for the record, I’ve decided to start tweeting, but I’m still working out my strategy. I don’t want to be a random tweeter. But that’s not the point I want to make here.

Over the last two years, I’ve tried to come up with working definitions of leadership and management. I’ve struggled with understanding where the murky swampland between the two firms up on either bank. And I’ve rejected numerous definitions as being too simplistic. Or too biased.

It hit me that the main requirement for leadership is that you have followers. That suggests two parts to a working definition:

  • First, it’s not about position, but about influence. Position or no position, whether you feel like a leader or not, it’s clear: if you have followers, you’re a leader. The opposite implication is just as true.
  • Second, you can’t have followers if you’re not moving. Therefore, leadership implies change.

Therefore, let me give the definitions a stab. Feel free to add your thoughts.

Leadership: the stewardship of one’s personal authority over others to set their pace and direction.

Management: the stewardship of one’s positional authority to maximize the use of resources toward the previously-set pace and direction.

A few clarifications. I don’t think it’s fair to say, as some do, that managers protect the status quo. Managers encourage movement toward the ends, but they don’t try to change the pace or define the direction as much as rearticulate the vision.

I also think it’s worth defining what I mean by personal authority and positional authority. These terms are attempts to specify the source of a leader’s influence, borrowed from Dr. Paul Hersey. Positional authority or power is the capacity to influence others by one’s dominant organizational position. In contrast, personal power is the capacity to influence others by one’s own being.

So, there you are. Give me your reaction to these definitions. With your help, maybe we can craft something worthwhile.

Invictus: a study in leadership

Invictus movie posterI really enjoyed watching Invictus this week. If you haven’t seen the film, it chronicles the first days and months of Nelson Mandela’s rise to leadership in South Africa. Rest assured it is not a sports movie as much as a leadership movie. It portrays several forms of leadership and one leader’s attempts to influence another leader to bring about a desired result.

I was fascinated first by Mandela’s use of symbols. He seemed to bet his presidency on a decision — against the advice of his chief of staff — to focus on rugby as a symbol that would accomplish his desire to bring a divided nation together. It’s true that sports are one of the few things that can create unlikely alliances. Sports success not only unites; it inspires and ignites dreams.

The biggest challenge Mandela takes on in his use of symbols was one of prejudice. Rugby was seen as a white sport, and the Springboks a symbol of everything black South Africans fought against. If the whites cheered for it, the blacks cheered against it. Mandela took a major risk in attempting to reclaim a national symbol. Most leadership gurus would fall on the side of his chief of staff; the associations of most symbols are too powerful to redefine.

Let me try to suggest a parallel. I don’t think we appreciate how crazy it is that the cross has become a piece of jewelry. In the first century, the cross symbolized everything that was hated about the Romans. How many redefinitions has that symbol gone through in the two millennia since Christ stole it from his captors? Of course, that’s 2,000 years. Mandela redefines the rugby team in less than a year. Can you think of another symbol that changed meaning so quickly?

Symbols are a powerful tool for leaders to use to advance their cause. That’s a topic worth another post down the road.

The second thing that struck me was that Mandela staked his influence over the rugby team on someone other than the coach. In fact, I can’t recall the coach appearing in the film. Instead, Mandela challenges the captain of the team. As a player, François Pienaar has the greater influence over the resolve of the team.

Mandela’s conversations with Pienaar are alone worth seeing the movie again. The bi-generational leadership model they employ is celebrated at the end, when each thanks the other for service to the nation. I think what struck me was their two very different styles and roles. Mandela has to lead a nation. His influence comes from incredible personal authority burnished from 27 years in prison. His job is to inspire, make tough choices and sacrifice for the good of the country. He does that in several cases by challenging his people — black South Africans — in essence to do to whites what they wish the whites would have done to them.

On the other hand, Pienaar begins with very little personal authority, seemingly barely surviving a purge of team leadership. In some ways, he is a symbol of the Springboks’ losing ways and racist heritage. Inspired by Mandela, he determines to bring change. He prods and challenges the team to break their self-made molds. He puts in the effort, comes up with the strategy and forces the team to dig as deep as he himself does. He also uses symbol. There’s a great moment when he hands out cans of beer that nobody likes and forcefully associates the taste with losing. At times, like Mandela, he looks very lonely in his leadership. By sheer determination, he carries his team to victory, but then shares the credit 43 million ways.

By the end of the movie, Pienaar shares the stage as equals with Mandela. I’m intrigued by his journey — how a young leader can build a reputation and gain the personal authority needed to influence a nation. The movie’s worth watching, and probably watching again. Give me your thoughts. What stood out for you?

The seeds of leadership

What should we look for in a potential leader who has not emerged yet?

Last year, Steve Murrell posted Tim Elmore’s list of traits he looks for in those he seeks to train in leadership:

  • gifted to lead
  • influential with people
  • fruitful even before they have a leadership position
  • trustworthy in small things
  • serving in some capacity already

This a a great starting point. The first one is a bit nebulous and probably becomes evident only as you look at the other bullets. The last three are certainly related. The idea is that leadership is scalable. Someone who uses relational and spiritual authority to bear fruit without the position is likely to be even more effective once they have positional authority. Jim Collins says as much in his monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors. So look for fruit, even in the smallest things.

I’m intrigued by the sports management business. Trades, drafts and coaching hires are compelling to me, because general managers are searching for hidden gems. You’ll often see a general manager trade “too much” for a pitcher who was average in the minor leagues or who had a losing record with another team. It’s evident that they see something they can work with in the middle of failure. That’s the job of an established leader: to mine for talent among those with less experience.

When you think of potential leaders in your setting, what are the seeds you look for?

Earned authority

I’m reading a great new book by Jimmy Long, called The Leadership Jump. It’s an attempt to depict the leadership styles of the generations and then build bridges between the two. In other words, it’s the book I was going to write. There’s a great chapter on authority that got me thinking.

I’m sure you’ve heard the line from John Maxwell, “A leader without any followers is just taking a walk.” One of the best measures of whether a person-of-title is a leader is to ask whether anyone would be following them if they didn’t have the position. A leader will influence whether or not they have a title.

There are two types of nontraditional authority that mean everything to emerging leaders: moral authority and spiritual authority. These are the lenses ermerging leaders use to take the measure of established leaders.

My working definitions, inspired by a few web searches and conferences, are these:

Moral authority — the ability to influence others based on a leader’s character, wisdom or experience. Moral authority comes from such traits as integrity, vulnerability, consistency, persistence and willingness to guide and mentor others. Often we lend a huge amount of moral authority to someone who has personally gone to great lengths through great pain to accomplish something.

Spiritual authority — according to Steve Moore of The Mission Exchange, the right to influence given to a leader by his followers based on their perception of spirituality in the life of the leader. In churches and parachurch ministries, this power-base can be very powerful (consider Jim Jones, for instance). No wonder then that when a ministry leader is caught in duplicity or hypocrisy, the fall from power can be very sudden  and complete.

Neither involves the use of force, title or position. These are types of power given from below. They are accumulated slowly and lost quickly. That’s why Long calls them “earned authority.”