Authoritative Leadership Requires Credibility

In today’s postmodern cultures, the ability to influence others – to lead – is increasingly dependent on one’s credibility rather than one’s position. “Because we said so” never really worked that well in leadership. Authoritarian leadership by coercion has become passe.

That doesn’t mean we can’t lead authoritatively. As authoritative leaders we call others to a shared vision. We mobilize. We engage in conversations followed by action. Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. When we do what we say we will do, we close the gap between words and action. The smaller the gap, the greater our credibility. The greater our credibility, the more naturally people will lend us their trust. Genuine authority is grounded in earned trust. 

The U.S. economy is in turmoil in large part because we lack authoritative leaders who will summon us to clear steps of disciplined action. Thus, U.S. credibility – our credit – is in crisis.

Most of us aren’t in charge of managing a national economy, so what does this look like on a smaller scale?

I am currently traveling and posted this entry from my hotel room. A green sign below the bath towel rack reads “Save Our Planet: Dear guest, every day millions of gallons of water are used to wash towels that have been used once. YOU MAKE THE CHOICE. A towel on the rack means “I will use again.” A towel on the floor means “Please replace.”

The hotel chain is offering me a simple way to be “green” and save them some effort in the process.

For the past three days I have hung my towel on the rack after showering.

For the past three days I have returned to my room to find all my towels replaced.

My choice obviously didn’t matter much to this hotel’s management. This gap between words and actions reduces the hotel’s credibility in my eyes. Yes, it is a small thing. But I find myself wondering how many other disconnects go on around here. To increase credibility the manager either needs to change the sign or change the behavior.

Looking into the mirror, is there a gap I see in my own words and deeds that may be threatening my credibility?

Close it. 

By Ken

Dr. Ken Cochrum (DMin, Bethel University) is Vice President of Global Digital Strategies at Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) in Orlando, Florida. An avid cyclist and aspiring guitarist, he also holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas and a Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. He recently co-founded Indigitous.org, a movement passionate about connecting people to Jesus using digital strategies. He previously served as vice president of Cru’s student-led movements worldwide. He and his wife Ann spent 13 years in East Asia where they raised their two children. Ken blogs regularly at www.onleadingwell.com.

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