“By what authority do you do these things?” This was the most frequently asked question Jesus received from those who had a place within the Jewish religious hierarchy. It was a natural question for them to ask. If a random stranger walked into your place of business and began mopping the floor or changing out light bulbs, you might be tempted to ask the same thing (and Jesus was doing a whole lot more than that).
For the Pharisees and many of us today, the concepts of power and authority are tightly bound to a position within a hierarchy. So when we see a need or a gap in leadership, our default response is to route it through the appropriate channels, run it up the chain of command, or shake our heads helplessly and perhaps imagine a scenario in which our title would confer on us the power to act. Yet Jesus operated differently, and we can find many other historical examples of individuals exercising tremendous leadership without title, position, or formal authority. What are we to make of this?
The concepts of formal and informal leadership are discussed insightfully by Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky in their book, Leadership on the Line. They call for us to differentiate leadership from a position and instead think of it in terms of “the gap.” “What gap,” you say? The gap between what is and what could or should be. Seen by this light, we no longer view leadership as a competitive scramble up a crowded dominance hierarchy (in which many of the participants are not practicing leadership at all), and we can begin to see opportunities for leadership all around us.
The truth is we need far more leadership than we currently have, both from within and outside the formal structures of power. We need those operating on the outside to step up, step out and exercise their God-given gifts, abilities, and insights more often than they do; and we need those operating from within to be leadership multipliers, rather than leadership hoarders.
If I might be so bold as to speak directly to the faith-based crowd. I think we need to be very careful about adding spiritual weight to the honors and titles that others bestow upon us. The scriptures make it clear that someone’s position in an organizational chart does not correlate well with status in God’s kingdom (Matt. 20:26), and it seems self-evidently true that you can make your way to the top of a faith-based hierarchy and still be among the lowliest of sinners.
• What do you think about the relationship between leadership and formal roles? Does a person’s position automatically make them a “leader”?
• In what ways are you currently practicing “gap leadership,” closing the gap between a current condition and a better reality?
• How might you be behaving like a leadership hoarder rather than a leadership multiplier?