The Use of Power and Authority In Leadership

The currency of leadership is power and authority. They are the medium of exchange that leaders invest in their relationships to influence people to move from their current reality to their shared vision of the future. In a transactional relationship, leaders exercise power and authority to buy and sell followers’ interests in order to influence their attitudes and actions toward a stated goal. Leaders in a transformational relationship leverage power and authority not only to accomplish shared goals but also to invest in the lives of those they lead in order to enhance their lives and value.

Leaders, either by position or charisma, possess the currency of power and authority to influence or to serve their followers. How leaders use that currency determines whether or not their interests are in themselves or those they lead.

He [the ruler] has only to take care that they [the powerful foreigner] do not get hold of too much power and too much authority, and then with his own forces, and with their goodwill, he can easily keep down the more powerful of them, so as to remain entirely master in the country.  –Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

As Jesus trained his twelve followers to lead in his kingdom, he acknowledged power and authority as currency in leadership relationships. He did so in a real life context when two of his disciples vied for advantage over others. Expecting a victorious coup when Jesus entered Jerusalem, James and John requested positions of leadership. As savvy businessmen, the Sons of Thunder knew power and authority came with right- and left-hand positions of the victor. They had seen this reality all their lives and transferred it to their perception of Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus rebuffed their requests by reminding them that a cross came before a crown for those who would serve in his kingdom. (Mark 10:35-40)

Spiritual authority does not come from seeking power, but from seeking God, and one does not seek God from a position of strength but in weakness.  –Neil Cole. Organic Leadership

The remaining ten followers of Jesus did not appreciate their peers’ request—probably because they wished the same for themselves. When Jesus sensed the rumblings among his learners, he called them aside to give them a lesson in kingdom leadership. He validated power and authority as currency in leadership by giving the examples of “lording it over” (power) and “exercising authority” (authority) from daily life. What he did, however, was to turn the use of power and authority away from gaining advantage over others toward serving them.

Jesus taught that the currency of power and authority was to be invested in the lives of others in order to serve them and to empower them to live out God’s mission for their lives. Rather than exercising power and authority from positions of advantage, Jesus called his future leaders to be servants to one another in the same way he was to them. (Mark 10:43-44) Later he would model his message as he dressed like a servant, acted like a slave and led them toward his mission. (John 13:3-11)

Instead of using his power to force people to submit, Jesus uses his power to serve. And rather than hoarding his power for his exclusive exercise, he lavishly delegates both authority and responsibility for others to join in carrying out God’s plan.  –Ralph E. Enlow Jr., The Leader’s Palette

Jesus possessed power and authority as the Risen Lord. He shared the authority of his name and the power of his presence when he commissioned his core group to continue the Mission of God until his return. (Matthew 28:18-20) His follower-leaders were to invest the power and authority Jesus delegated to them in service to others, not to gain advantage over them. We who claim to follow and lead like Jesus are to do the same.

A leader… uses the power of leadership to lovingly build up the lives of those who follow—not for personal gain or the fulfillment of ego.  –Theodore Wilhelm Engstrom;Paul A. Cedar. Compassionate Leadership

The use of power and authority by the follower-leaders of Jesus is not for personal gain or advantage. The currency of leadership is to be invested in service to others so that they may know the One Leader and carry out his eternal purpose for their lives. Motivated by the love of Jesus, humbled in service to others, follower-leaders of Jesus invest what leadership currency they have or have been delegated to serve others in the name of Jesus that they may know him and be his disciples.

You are a leader if you have influence over others. You possess the currency of power and authority to influence others for your advantage or God’s mission. How will you choose to invest what power and authority you have been given or gained today? 

Your answer may impact the life of another for eternity.

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