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Leadership, Influence and Moral Authority

All over the NFL and Northeastern Ohio, the Browns and Freddie Kitchen have been a hot topic this season. Just as one example, this was Mina Kimes’s statement (Mina Kimes is a Los Angeles-based American investigative journalist who specializes in business and sports reporting. A multiple award-winner, she has written for Fortune Magazine, Bloomberg News, and ESPN. She is a senior writer at ESPN and the host of the network's daily news podcast ESPN Daily):

“They just need an adult, right? They just need someone to come in, clean up, be an adult, fix the culture because the talent is there. It’s actually a very attractive job. The next head coach of the Browns needs to get Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Myles Garrett to understand that the details of how they do things is significantly more important than their talent. He needs to get those guys to believe that that matters because right now they're just a bunch of players who think 'we're super talented and that's going to carry us.' What head coach can do that?”

Without trying to throw Freddie Kitchen under the bus, it seems to me that he didn’t realize the higher you go in leadership the less options you have, yet the more responsibilities you have. Freddie isn’t alone. Most people don’t understand this in leadership. To many people want to be the leader because they think it gives them more options. That is so far from reality. You have more responsibility, not more options. I’ve watched this scenario over and over again. That perspective always destroys the person’s ability to lead because they lose their influence and any moral authority they might have had. This is not only true with the Browns but also in too many organizations, even more importantly in the family.

As you begin a new year it’s likely that you have a few resolutions or goals in mind. I would strongly encourage you to make this first on your list: I will maintain my moral authority. If you don’t maintain a firm grip on it, you really have no chance of fulfilling your other goals and desires.

Leadership is more than positional authority. People who are true leaders may not even have official authority, but they always have influence. To lead a vision into reality you must maintain your influence. Andy Stanley speaks strongly to this truth:

“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. Moral authority takes a lifetime to earn and can be lost in a moment. When leaders waiver in their commitment, when they leave to follow personal interests, or water down the plans, it is disillusioning to followers and momentum comes to a screeching halt.”

When leaders don’t walk the walk and live out what they say, authority is lost. It doesn’t mean the leader has to have constant success. But when we mess up, we need to learn what can be learned from it, then move forward without regret or worry. Otherwise we carry the failure forward with us, and damage the people we have been entrusted to lead. To have appropriate influence with others we have to consistently walk the walk.

It is vital that we make a commitment to courageous, integrity-filled leadership that is real. Once we lose it, it will difficult, perhaps impossible, to get people to trust our leadership again.

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