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Comment Highlight: Leading by example

Posted by on Aug 31, 2011 in comment highlights | 2 comments

Comment Highlight: Leading by example

Art left a comment yesterday on my post “What did Jesus say about positions of authority under his own authority.” His comment goes along well with my post from this morning called “In the church, how does someone lead without exercising authority?

Without knowing what I was going to write about today, Art’s comment captures the distinctions between leadership based on positional authority and leadership based on living as an example and influencing others through that example.

Here is Art’s comment:


Most people assume that the way the world wields authority for leadership is the best method. One way or another, they seek to use the same methods and justify their use as the only effective way to get things done. If that is correct, then with our Lord’s denial of the use of this kind of authority for leadership in the church, is Jesus “tying one hand behind our back” to minimize the effectiveness of the church?

In leadership research, this type of authority is called “legitimate” power and “positional” power–the position itself grants legitimate authority/power over others. The leader doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with their power–they can be an awful person, which is why you hear the phrase, “respect the office (or uniform) if not the person.”

Leadership research also recognizes another form of power, called “personal” power (and the one who “leads” solely by personal power is said to be a “lateral leader,” being alongside rather than over others). This power is granted voluntarily by those who allow themselves to be influenced solely based on their friend’s character and expertise observed over time through many circumstances.

Positional power usually results in compliance (willingness to do as told but apathetic about the request/requirement), sprinkled with some commitment and some resistance, and this compliance can be harshly enforced if desired. It is “reliable.” But positional power is very corrupting to those who exercise it. These leaders devalue their followers, are comfortable manipulating them, attribute any results to themselves, distance themselves from their followers, and tend to use rewards to reinforce those who comply.

Personal power usually results in commitment (high agreement and makes great effort to carry things out), sprinkled with some compliance and some resistance. This commitment cannot be enforced and the power cannot be misused (or it ceases to exist). Personal power does not corrupt the user, being self-correcting (easily lost) when abused.

The world will settle for compliance and corrupted leaders using a rewards based reinforcement and an escalating range of enforcement measures against those who do not comply. They have chosen their tool well, and it “works.” If your goal is reliable compliance.

Our Lord is seeking committed disciples who set an example for others to follow, who will teach the same to others, on and on.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-31-2011

    That was good art

    Many in the word of faith movements exercise this positional power

    The last religious facility I attended worked this way and its very sad

  2. 8-31-2011


    I think I’m going to turn my blog over to Art.