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Traits Of A Servant Leader – Moral Authority

In this last blog post discussing the themes of Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership by James W. Sipe and Don M. Frick, we are talking about Moral Authority.

This topic begs a definition if we are to have a meaningful conversation. My personal favorite is this definition of moral authority:

“The alignment between a person’s convictions and his behavior that makes his life persuasive.”
~ Andy Stanley, Visioneering

If we think about the most historic, influential leaders of our times, we see the connection to moral authority immediately. We see that they are servant leaders. For example, Nelson Mandela, who dreamed of making his own contribution to the freedom struggle of the people of South Africa.

Did he have personal convictions? Did his behavior line up with those convictions? Was his life persuasive? You and I will not be Nelson Mandela, but could we learn from what makes his leadership so persuasive?

  • Having Convictions – Have you thoughtfully decided on the convictions or principles that you want to define your leadership at work? If not, you will likely not have much influence. Personal convictions determine how you spend your time and how you interact with others. The people that you lead want to know who you are before they commit themselves to following you. They want to know what you stand for, how you will act under pressure, and whether you will be reliable as a leader. Until your convictions are well-defined and transparent to the team, you will have limited influence and limited success as a leader.
  • Behavior Consistent With Convictions – Even more important than knowing your convictions, is to behave consistently with those beliefs/principles in your daily life. Without consistent behaviors, you will be viewed as a leader who lectures about morals and judges people by standards that you are not demonstrating consistently in your leadership. This is dangerous. Moralistic lectures will only lead to distrust; people will wonder what makes you so great. Moral authority has one source only – your actual behaviors. Only your actions will give you significant influence.
  • A Persuasive Life – In our heart of hearts, each of us wants to have some positive influence, some legacy that says our life was worth living. Leaders like Nelson Mandela have two characteristics that resulted in such a life.
  • They Led People For A Greater Purpose – Mandela sought to end apartheid, or segregation, in South Africa.
  • Their Actions Were In Service To Others – Mandela went to prison for 27 years to win freedom for others.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
~ Nelson Mandela

There was no doubt that Mandela had convictions and he lived them. After his release from prison, he had such a following, that he was the first democratically elected President of his country in 1994. He has certainly had a persuasive life. Will you be able to say the same?

2 Responses

  1. I agree with Stephanie. Too many times we try to dictate to others what to do without doing it oursleves. People will eventually see right through this and when that happens, “poof” your credability is gone!

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