Leading With Authority

When things go wrong, our instinctive reaction is fear. The late Princeton psychologist Hadley Cantril pointed out that social panic occurs when large groups of people cannot discern reliable sources of advice from unreliable ones. The economic meltdown in the past months stirred a fear that rippled the world.

As pundits gave contradictory opinions, our technological sophistication intensified our fears by enabling people to check on their investments every few minutes. And, when the anticipatory meets the retrospective, fear turns into panic. We become anticipatory when we think something terrible is going to happen. We sink into the retrospective when we regret that we did not act earlier. That is how swimmers who are pulled to sea by a rip current instinctively swim to shore against the current, and end up exhausting themselves and drowning. In bad times, only a clear voice of authority and assurance can calm nerves so we can respond appropriately and constructively.

The apostle Peter was writing to Christians scattered across Asia Minor who were living in perilous times. Their lives were threatened because of their faith. Christians were living in a society ignorant of God, which misunderstood believers and despised Christian practices. The apostle warns that the Devil “prowls around like a roaring lion.”2 In such seasons of fear and confusion there was a need for leadership that was reliable. Peter writes, “I have a special concern for you church leaders…that you care for God’s flock with all the diligence of a shepherd.3

Trusted leaders are willing to serve; they are not compelled by others or circumstances.

Leaders with authority can be discerned by their behavior and motivation. Firstly, Peter indicates that trusted leaders are willing to serve; they are not compelled by others or circumstances: “Not because you have to, but because you want to please God.4

Compulsion is a sign we are enslaved by the form but oblivious to the substance. Some leaders are compelled by a sense of duty. They perform their tasks grudgingly and their sulky demeanor does not inspire participation from others. Their faithfulness is held hostage by perfunctory obligation that is blind to purpose and meaning. Frequently, they do the least to comply with the minimum of requirements. They would never go “the extra mile” or give extended attention and care.

1. The only way to serve willingly is out of gratitude.

Peter’s stance is from being a “witness of Christ’s sufferings.”5 He must have recalled when the Lord’s eyes met his after he had betrayed Christ the third time before a slave girl.6 Despite the betrayal, Christ gave Peter a personal interview after His resurrection.

Three times the Lord inquired, “Do you love me?”7 With his heart laid bare before Christ, Peter’s motivation to serve was in response to the restoring love and grace of the risen Lord. The grateful heart serves willingly, compelled only by love for Christ and His people.

2. Leaders earn their authority when they are not self serving but self giving.

Not calculating what you can get out of it (MSG) but eager to serve (NIV).”8 There are too many leaders who plunder their countries’ resources and manipulate people and situations for personal benefit. They ask, “What’s in it for me?” while pondering how to discharge their leadership responsibilities.

There are pastors who look after only the wealthy in hope of fiscal reward and leaders who promote agendas for personal returns. They have a streak of meanness that overestimates their personal value and contribution on the balance sheet of human interaction. The refrain “I deserve more or better” is replayed continuously in the calculative mind of the self serving leader. The same calculator undervalues and discounts the worth of others and their contributions.

Leaders earn their authority when they are not self serving but self giving.

Peter’s exhortation describes the person who helps himself to a double portion of food before his guests have a chance to a first helping. It also points to a person who goes to the theater only when he can get a free ticket or to one who gets his family to pay for his vacation even when he can afford it. It is the host who waters the wine so the party would not cost him too much. Self serving leaders hoard the tangibles while paying lip service to the noble.

In contrast, the self giving leader is so desirous to meet the needs of her people that he is willing to make available all resources, including material ones to do so. He is motivated by a deep desire to bless others, and sees his personal resources as a trust from God rather than a stockpile for personal gratification or a hedge against rainy days. Self giving matures into self sacrifice, the ultimate example of which is modeled by Christ. When a leader is sacrificial, the motivation to follow him is exponentially higher.

3. Leaders with authority do not bossily tell others what to do, but tenderly show people the way.

For some, prestige and power are more desirable than money. Satan thought it better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven! The desire to be master and commander turns an insecure person into a tyrant and despot. Such a leader’s agenda is paramount and no consideration is given to others’ needs and welfare. He exploits people and manipulates situations to fulfill his purposes. He can even provide spiritual justification for his self aggrandizement. He directs people to do what he himself is unable or unwilling to do.

On the contrary, if a leader is exemplary and competent, he will have the authority to take risks in difficult times and others will make sacrifices to stand with him. The leader with authority leads from the front, shows the way forward, and blazes the trail so others may follow.

Alexander the Great of Macedonia led his army to overcome numerically stronger forces, conquering the then known world in the eleven years after he ascended the Greek throne after his father, Philip II was assassinated. He felt he could not require his men to risk their lives unless he was willing to put his life on the line too. The sight of Alexander leading the charge so inspired his soldiers that no military force could withstand them.10

Leading by example necessitates transparency. Leaders who preserve a façade of strength and imperviousness only encourage hypocrisy. They hide and excuse their own weaknesses while demanding perfection from their followers in brutal and punishing ways.

Instead, a leader who is honest about his struggles can be tender because of his experience with God’s grace. He can demonstrate what it means to drink from the fountain of grace, and give hope to followers facing challenges in their own lives. Ironically, people respect leaders who are honest about their struggles, and follow those whose intentions are transparent.

When things go wrong, there is confusion with the clamor of conflicting voices. But, only those who can speak with clarity, step out to pave the way, and risk their own resources and lives will have the authority to lead. Only leaders with authority will inspire confidence to overcome the challenges that threaten our well-being and all that is important to us.

1. Cantril, Hadley. 1906-1969. PhD Harvard University. Joined Princeton University in 1936; became Chair of Princeton’s Department of Psychology and founded Princeton’s Office of Public Opinion.
2. I Peter 5:8
3. I Peter 5:2 MSG
4. I Peter 5:2 MSG
5. I Peter 5:1
6. Luke 22:61
7. John 21:15-19
8. I Peter 5:2c MSG & NIV
9. I Peter 5:3 paraphrased from MSG
10. Tracy, Brian. “The Indispensable Quality.” Brian Tracy International. Nov 10, 2008.
http://www.briantracy.com/articles/default.aspx?topicid=11&dtd=20081110 (Accessed May 2009).