“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matthew 5:13)
To gain and maintain influence you must have moral authority. Moral authority is the critical, nonnegotiable, 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. It is the relationship other people see between what you say and what you do, between what you claim to be and what you are. A person with moral authority is beyond reproach. That is, when you look for a discrepancy between what he says he believes and what he does, you come up empty. There is alignment between conviction and action, belief and behavior.
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.
We will not allow ourselves to be influenced by those who lack moral authority in our eyes. Inconsistency between what is said and what is done inflicts a mortal wound on a leader’s influence.
For this reason, moral authority is a fragile thing. It takes a lifetime to earn. But it can be lost in a moment. And once it is lost, it is almost impossible to restore.
If others are aware of a discrepancy between what you say you believe and what you do, or between what you do and what you want them to do, you will have little moral authority. If people recognize alignment between your beliefs, actions, and expectations, you will have moral authority. It is all about walking your talk.
As a visionary, the one thing you can control and must protect at all costs is your moral authority. Moral authority makes you a leader worth following. Moral authority positions you to influence people at the deepest level: heart, mind, and conscience.
Family is a realm in which the significance of moral authority is easily evaluated and understood. Think for a moment about your parents. Were they (or are they) leaders worth following? Do thoughts of Mom and Dad elicit feelings of respect?
If so, it is because you perceive consistency or alignment between what they say and what they do. Your respect for them is not determined by their financial, academic, or social accomplishments alone. In fact, you may hold them in high regard in spite of their financial, academic or social standing. They have moral authority.
If, on the other hand, you have little respect for Mom and/or Dad, your feelings probably stem from what you perceive to be an inconsistency between what they said and did, what they claimed to be and what they truly were. And all the financial, academic, and social accolades in the world cannot compensate for the inconsistency.
Think for a moment. Isn’t it true that as their inconsistencies became more and more apparent, you found yourself less and less open to their influence? As they lost their moral authority, they lost their influence. On the other hand, parents who maintain their moral authority are able to maintain their influence throughout their children’s lives. Such is the power and potential of moral authority.
This same dynamic is at work in every marriage. As a husband, my ability to influence Sandra hinges on my competency and my moral authority. And the same is true of her influence over me. By being competent in an area, she can trust I know what I am talking about. But my moral authority, the alignment between what I say and do, is what enables her to trust my motive. My moral authority determines whether or not she believes I have her best interests in mind.
All the ability, talent, and charisma in the world cannot take the place of moral authority.
- Visioneering: God’s Blueprint for Developing and Maintaining Vision, Andy Stanley, pg. 179-181