I was recently in a discussion about what to do as a ministry leader when colleagues are not committed to and following through on organizational policies. This led to some observations that respect for authority has changed. There are several reasons why views on authority are changing, especially for those who are younger.
One major factor for decreased respect for leaders is the shrinking (or collapse) of power distance. In the past, experience, education, positions and titles meant an individual had knowledge, expertise, influence and information (ie. power), so they deserved respect. This power distance was physically represented by the distance from the podium to the students, the pulpit to the congregation, the corner office to the cubicles, etc. With changes in culture and technology, power and respect for authority are changing (a great book on this is The End of Power by Moises Naim). A 13-year-old can post on Twitter as easily as the President; students in my college classes can Google more information in 5 minutes than I learned in 6+ years of graduate work; a teenager can get more followers and influence on YouTube in three weeks than established experts sometimes do in a lifetime; and our congregations can listen to podcasts of other pastors all week long.
Power or authority can no longer be gained or leveraged through title, experience, knowledge or position. Influence, respect, and the right to be heard or hold people accountable must be earned through trust, authenticity, humility, service and relationships. We must be sure as we are building our organizational or team culture that we are doing so relationally. This is the best way to win and maintain respect as a leader in today’s context and earn the influence to provide accountability.
We cannot assume respect based on our role or position, we must actively earn and maintain it. Once we have earned this respect, it becomes much easier to have honest conversations with our colleagues and provide accountability.
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!