Challenging Authority, Redefining Leadership: Authentic Power
Last month I wrote about my experience challenging authority. This post is my attempt to redefine our current understanding of leadership and authority, based on what I see as our natural evolutionary course toward progress.
A few months ago I read this definition of leadership given by a viable candidate for United States President, which I think epitomizes our current understanding:
“I’m a leader; I’m a leader; I’ve always been a leader; I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it.” Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Debate, Detroit Michigan.
For historical records, I have given credit to the voice of this quote, though I really don’t like giving this man any more attention. The reason I quote him is because I think any rational person can see that this idea is crazy. It’s especially crazy when it comes from a man that you don’t trust; more especially when he is saying that the armed forces will follow him, even if he is telling them to go against the law and torture people.
Yet I believe that this is the way we see leadership in our current world. A leader is someone whom others follow. And while you may not trust this particular man who claims leadership and an authority to make people follow him, other people do. And they are following him. Does that make him a leader? What is his authority that justifies him calling himself a leader and expecting others to follow him? His authority doesn’t come from authentic internal empowerment, because a true leader who is internally empowered would not expect people to follow him/her simply because s/he is a leader or in a position of external power.
Unfortunately, I feel like this is the kind of leadership that exists in the Church. This quote from Thomas S. Monson seems to have the same resonance as the quote above:
“If you want to see the light of heaven, if you want to feel the inspiration of Almighty God, if you want to have that feeling within your bosom that your Heavenly Father is guiding you, then follow the prophets of God. When you follow the prophets, you will be in safe territory.” Thomas S. Monson, Follow the Prophets, Ensign January 2015.
What exactly is their authority that they can equate following them to following God? I see only the fruits of an external authority. They rose to their positions through external qualities consisting of the correct gender, positions they’ve held in the church, and who they knew. They inherited their “authority” externally through an act of laying on of hands. Are those things enough to give them power to speak for God in such a way that if they say do it we’re supposed to do it?
This feels like dictatorial leadership which has never boded well for the world. I don’t believe that God would lead the world through dictatorial authority. In fact, I think what the world needs in order to progress is for every human being to become authentically empowered from within.
True leadership is not an external position. Someone can run a country or a church or a corporation and not be a true leader. True leadership does not mean that people follow you. Someone can lead his/her followers to kill/maim/hurt the sacred beauty of life, and that does not make him/her a leader. True leadership does not claim authority over another human being. A man may claim to speak for God when he tells a fourteen-year-old girl that she is to marry him. Leaders may claim to speak God’s will when they discriminate against a group of people based on their race, sexual orientation, or gender. Many wars have been fought and people killed with God’s supposed blessing. Yet none of these things have occurred with true authority. You can recognize true authority by the fruits it produces.
The kind of leadership and authority I am talking about requires the person claiming it to undergo a process of clearing him/herself of egocentric and selfish tendencies. It requires self-awareness. A true leader is a whole and integrated person who sees beyond his/her own experience, reveres life in every form, and considers the consequences of his/her actions. A true leader would never say, “Follow me, do what I say.” True leadership comes from a simple power of being that invites others to shift.
Here is an example of the simplicity of true leadership. A few months ago I was frustrated with a certain school district policy in our area. I was so frustrated that I needed someone on whom to take out my anger. Fortunately for me, the school secretary was clear with herself. My emotions were charged, but she remained neutral. She led from within, simply in her way of being despite a formidable force raging from my own emotions. Because of her inner work to remain calm despite my moment of rage, my energy also became neutral and we were able to discuss the matter calmly. I even discovered that she felt the same way I did about the policy, despite the fact that she had to follow it to keep her job.
True, authentic, empowered leadership comes from doing the inner work. It comes from a way of being. It is available to everyone. It is not something obtained through wealth, birthright, knowing the right people, or following the right social rules. It does not require hierarchical ladders, in fact it breaks down hierarchies. This means that a leader of a church who has millions of followers does not automatically get the right to claim leadership and authority. Yet a school secretary dealing with an angry parent can lead simply in her way of being.
This is authentic power and it is available to all of us. Authentic empowerment will break down our need for external authority and leadership. I believe it is the force behind the scripture I quoted in my last post: “The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man(woman) should not counsel his(her) fellow man(woman), neither trust in the arm of flesh—“ D&C 1:19(gender inclusive language added)
Our world and our church are in need of this shift in power that will only come as we each do the work to become authentically empowered and to give up the idea of external leadership. I love this quote in a book called “The Seat of the Soul” by Gary Zukav, because it expresses a vision of what the world will look like when we work toward authentic empowerment instead of trusting and following external leadership.
“Our deeper understanding leads us to another kind of power, a power that loves life in every form that it appears, a power that does not judge what it encounters, a power that perceives meaningfulness and purpose in the smallest details upon the Earth. This is authentic power. When we align our thoughts, emotions, and actions with the highest part of ourselves, we are filled with enthusiasm, purpose, and meaning. Life is rich and full. We have no thoughts of bitterness. We have no memory of fear. We are joyously and intimately engaged with our world. This is the experience of authentic power.
Authentic power has its roots in the deepest source of being. Authentic power cannot be bought, inherited, or hoarded. An authentically empowered person is incapable of making anyone or anything a victim. An authentically empowered person is one who is so strong, so empowered, that the idea of using force against another is not part of his or her consciousness.”