Leadership = Influence = Moral Authority

Mar 23, 2009, Written by Sue Miley

I really wanted to share with you an excerpt from Andy Stanley’s book, “Visioneering.”  The book focuses on following our vision, whether in business, with our family, with church, etc.  If God gives us a vision, it is the person who receives the vision that leads the way.  Leadership is more than position authority.  People who are true leaders may not even have official authority, but they always have influence.  To lead a vision into fruition you must maintain your influence.   Here is the excerpt about influence I wanted to share:

It is the alignment between a person’s convictions and his behavior that makes his life persuasive.  Herein is the key to sustained influence.

The phrase that best captures this dynamic is moral authority.  To gain and maintain your influence you must have moral authority.  Moral authority is the critical, non-negotiable, can’t -be-without ingredient of sustained influence.  Without moral authority, your influence will be limited and short-lived.

Moral authority is the credibility you earn by walking your talk.  ….  That is, when you look for a discrepancy between what he says he believes and what he does, you come up empty.

Nothing compensates for a lack of moral authority.  No amount of communication skills, wealth, accomplishment, education, talent, or position can make up for a lack of moral authority.  We all know plenty of people who have those qualities but who exercise no influence over us whatsoever.  Why?  Because there is a contradiction between what they claim to be and what we perceive them to be.

Andy Stanley goes on to say that moral authority takes a lifetime to earn and can be lost in a moment.  This whole excerpt resonated with me for a couple of reasons:

  1. Being Let Down by Leaders – I am personally inspired by strong leadership.  I have been on teams where I was committed to following the person with the vision.  I believed in the vision and was giving 100% to doing my part in making the vision a reality.  It was completely disillusioning to see the leader begin to waiver in their commitment.  In one instance the leader decided that his own self-interest was more important than the vision and eventually left to pursue personal interests.  The other time I recall off of the top of my head the leader lost confidence.  The plans didn’t go perfectly.  Rather than changing or adjusting the plans as Andy Stanley recommends, this leader began to doubt the vision and water it down.  Soon the team was confused and the momentum came to a halt.
  2. Walking the Talk – when I think of people I most admire, and those I would head towards the cliffs with, it is those who walk the talk.  Especially when things aren’t going perfectly.  One of the best lessons I ever learned was from a former mentor.  He told me that when we mess something up we need to analyze quickly to determine what, if anything, we could have done differently.  We should catalog the learning and move on.  Move on without regret, fear, or worry.  He said if we move forward focusing on this past failure or mistake, then we carry it into the future.  Now it will affect future actions and decisions, not just the past.  He walked the talk.  He accepted reality and took responsibility for his own mistakes and shortcomings.  Then he showed by example that he gleaned the learning and moved forward to put the learning into action without looking back.
  3. The Mirror – I have a responsibility to see myself from this vantage point.  I need to take a personal  inventory regularly to make sure that I keep my commitments, that I do what is right even if it is not to my personal benefit, and that this stays a core value in my personal and professional life.   At Crossroads Professional Coaching, we are dedicated to leadership development.  To have appropriate influence with future leaders we have to consistently walk the talk.

I see many areas that this can affect small business owners.  Are you committed to your own vision?  Would your team agree with you?  Do you walk the talk with the people you influence?  This comes into play by staying on course personally, but employees watch to see if we are holding them and others accountable.  They want to see if we stay focused on our objectives and keep the team focused on objectives.  They also are watching when we mess up.  Do we take responsibility, learn, and move on?  Do we take decisive action when necessary?  And I guess ultimately are we willing to give up the vision if it means maintaining our integrity, our moral authority?  The vision is important, but not at the expense of our integrity.  Because once lost, it will be difficult to get those same folks to follow our leadership ever again!

For more information about developing personal leadership skills and values call us at 225-341-4147.

Reader Interactions


  1. beaservant says

    This is one of the key ideas that made me start my own blog on “servant leadership” – the idea that true leadership has absolutely nothing to do with “positional” authority. It seems to me (read James Autry’s stuff!) that leadership is something that our c-workers voluntarily grant us…..it can’t be coerced, demanded, commanded, etc. Your thinking on these subjects is right on!

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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