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My way or the highway!
May 1st, 2011

So, you want to be in charge.  You don’t like being told what to do.  You’d rather be telling others what to do (and how to do it).  You know how to treat people, not like your boss.  You could certainly do a better job than he’s doing.  And look at the benefits he’s getting for doing just a mediocre job: admiration, money, better working conditions, attention, and power.  That would all be yours if you were in charge.

The lure of authority can be very strong.  But before you agree to take on more authority, remember there’s additional responsibility attached to it and that your new found authority will be proportionate to the new responsibility generating it.  Authority not only flows from responsibility, it’s so tightly bound to it that, without responsibility, there is no authority.  That means that if you want the benefits of authority, then you have to accept the burden of responsibility that goes along with it. 

Because authority is proportionate to the responsibility generating it, a small increase in authority implies only a small increase in responsibility.  So how much responsibility can you handle?  Can you handle the responsibility of being the president of your company or the president of the United Sates?  While the president of your company may be responsible for many people, the president of the United States is responsible for the welfare of the entire nation.  Therefore, as you might expect, the responsibility and authority of the president of the United Sates is far greater than the responsibility and authority of the president of your company. 

Now, before you agree to a four year term, there’s something else you need to know about authority.  While authority flows from responsibility, accountability flows from authority.  Accountability is key here because both responsibility and authority lose their meaning when there is no accountability.  That means that if you agree to accept greater authority, you are also agreeing to a higher level of accountability.  As president of a company, the board of directors will hold you accountable for the overall welfare of the company.  If you make a significant mistake, you could lose your job and, and therefore, all of your benefits.  As president of the country, the citizens of the country (and every history book) will hold you accountable for the welfare of the country.  If you make a mistake here, you could lose your job, your benefits, and your name.

So, why be concerned about being held accountable?  Well, it’s the consequences that flow from being held accountable that gives it its sting.  Notice also that without consequences, responsibility, authority, and accountability have no meaning.  For example, imagine having a banker in charge of your life savings who knows that he will never be held accountable, or suffer any consequence, for anything he might do with your money.  Consequences play an important role in our lives.  Its specter may not be the reason a moral man acts responsibly, however, it can help the morally immature man to act responsibly. 

So what does all this mean to you?  Well for starters, don’t be afraid of responsibility, few ever get ahead by holding back on their abilities.  Be confident in your abilities, but also be aware of the level of consequences you are exposing yourself to.  Keep in mind that “consequences” can come from both a temporal authority and a spiritual authority (God).  When your decisions are good, you will reap a benefit and when your decisions are bad you will bear a consequence. 

An example of a responsibility with the least set of consequences is one where you have to decide what you’re going to eat for dinner tonight.  The only significant consequence from that decision could come from “nature” itself.  You may get fat, spill something on your clothes, or get sick.

A second, more serious, example of responsibility is one where you advise someone on how to invest their life savings.  If the advice is good, the investor will be grateful, however if the advice is bad, the investor may file a claim against you, the government may get into the act, and depending on your motives, God may also hold you responsible.

A third, and most serious, example of responsibility is one that deals with your eternal life.  If you believe that you have the authority to interpret Holy Scripture as you see fit, and you interpret it incorrectly, and you act on that interpretation, you will have to answer to the eternal authority (God).  The consequence of acting on an incorrect interpretation could cost you your eternal happiness.

Why was Moses a reluctant leader?  Some say that he understood well the relationship between the authority God was giving him and consequences he would bear if he made a poor decision.  There’s something to be said about being obedient to a higher authority (as long as it’s legitimate and the orders are morally just).  When you obey such an authority, you can’t be held accountable for, or suffer any consequences from, it.

A final thought.  While you are considering the benefits and burdens of being in charge (money, respect, ….), don’t leave out the problem of friendship.  Some people are drawn to the smell of power and there is no way for you to know if they are really your friend or if they just want something from you.

Still feel the lure of authority?

Roger Cruze