Here we go again. Another issue from the past haunts a politico and it is big time news. Why is that? Why do we obviously hold our leaders to higher standards than we even hold ourselves? I think there are two simple reasons we do so: one, deep down we know that character actually matters-at every level of society and certainly in the life of a leader; and two, the very definition of “leader” compels us to hold such people to a higher standard.
A leader is someone who has influence. Notice that this simple definition excludes the necessity of any organizational title. But let’s expand the definition just a little bit. A leader is someone who has influence towards or for a worthwhile cause. I think we would all agree that the more significant the cause, the greater the influence. Therefore we tend not to hold small positions to as a high a scrutiny as we do those who have high profile, highly influential positions. But at the end of the day, all true “followership” is built upon trust (if we are not talking about a dictatorial regime). And we trust those people who live coherent, consistent lives. It is those people that earn our trust and our “followership.” One definition of “influence” is “an emanation of spiritual or moral force.” Inconsistent lives, lives that lack moral authority, don’t do this. Character has always mattered and always will. Someone’s true influence will always be founded upon a person’s inner life-that place where they nurture and draw upon their moral authority. Lasting leadership must always be sustained by something more than sheer personality or communication skills. Most people can see beyond a slick persona over time. We follow those we trust and we trust those who live lives of integrity. This is true for the politico as well as the pastor. This is true for the father as well as the CEO. This is true for the coach as well as the head of a non-profit. You don’t believe me? Then you are not following the news and you are not being honest with yourself. When given a choice, you will always follow the person who engenders your trust and your commitment-and that will not come from a duplicitous lifestyle. You may not live up to the standard you hold a leader to-but you won’t follow someone who wears the mask and wants to have influence over your life.
The inner life is that place where character is born. The inner life is where we develop our governing center. It is that place that chooses. It chooses right from wrong. It chooses good over bad. It is not nurtured in chaos and busyness. It is born out of a life of reflection that acknowledges something or someone greater than themselves. The inner life is principled. The inner life is disciplined. The inner life shows up in the real world when it is tested.
Here are three ways a strong inner life that leads to consistent character will show up in the life of a leader: 1. They are honest about themselves and honest with others. It’s not that they are perfect-no one is. It’s that they can admit mistakes and handle the consequences. In doing so they can also be honest with other people. They have nothing to lose. They don’t have to play games because they are not trying to hide. What you see is what you get. I think one reason politics and national trust is at an all time low is because we feel we are being taken for a ride all the time. It seems that what is most important is getting elected or reelected. The title has come to stand for dishonesty. 2. They are able to forgive and be forgiven. A person of good character knows their own flaws and their own need for forgiveness and therefore can readily extend forgiveness to others. It’s obvious that we are all broken in many ways. Character takes an honest assessment of itself and sees its own need for grace. That leads to humility which allows you to readily forgive others. 3. They lead with respect and readily give power away. Pride leads to fear and fear leads to power hoarding, not power sharing. Pride lives in fear and therefore dare not truly respect someone else who is equally as gifted. Humility leads to boldness and the ability to recognize the potential in others. Humility sees power as a resource to be stewarded and shared, because that is what will raise another person up and enable them. Humility understands the fragile nature of all positions of power and can lead with great respect.
Look for these people to lead you. Become one of these people so that you can truly lead others in a way that compels followership.
Jesus said it well, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) Was there anyone with greater character worth emulating? Was there anyone with greater influence?