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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Leading Without Authority

I attended the annual commencement at Pacific Lutheran University near Tacoma, Washington today. That was an experience. Our god-son was graduating. He'll be going to China now to teach English. It was a proud time for those of us who were there to love him on. But I found a nugget of truth there which I hadn't expected to find. Let me explain.

The Commencement Address was given by Robert B. Reich, Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley. You can learn more about him at Now I'm not typically enamored with liberals. This is a liberal school too, and I found some of the commencement remarks by others to range from sappy ("let's go forth into the world and recycle") to nearly offensive ("we can discover truth if we ask enough questions"). But Mr. Reich was different.

Robert Reich exhorted the graduates to go forth into the world and lead. His proposition to graduates was that leaders can operate at any level ... they don't position or authority to lead. They just need to lead. I agree with that too! I've seen servant leaders serving at some very low levels --- but leading nonetheless. And to think that we foolish humans think leadership is authority and position! Mr. Reich was happy to challenge that shallow thinking.

One of the more profound things that Reich said was that "Leaders speak truth to authority." Some of the examples that he gave were even more profound. How about Rosa Parks? She challenged an age-old paradigm. How about Candy Lightner, who founded Mothers Against Drunk Drivers ( How about Rachel Carson, who published the book, Silent Spring, in 1962, about the effects of civilization on the environment (

The point is that these individuals didn't have position or authority. Nevertheless, they took something that they had personal knowledge of and were passionate about --- and they championed changed. They did so by telling the truth. They did so by becoming a voice. They did so by challenging the norm, the accepted and the tradition. Did they change the entire world for any of us? Probably not. Did they change the world for most of us? Yes, indeed. You see, they were leaders, who didn't need authority or position to lead. They just lead.

All of this strikes me as incredibly Biblical. I know, none of these women were particularly Christian. (Rachel Carson is rumored to have been a lesbian.) But when I look at the greatest leader in the history of mankind ... I note that Jesus didn't have any position or authority in our society either. God gave him all the authority He needed though. And that is the same God that gives you and I our authority now. I don't think we really do need position or authority to do what God calls us to do. He gives us all the authority we need.

So why aren't more of us leading?

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