I recall it as if he said it yesterday. He was a lead pastor from a very numerically-successful local church. He said it in a staff meeting:

“I don’t want anyone to tell me what I can or cannot do.”

When Susan and I lived in Sweden in the 70s I got off the underground subway and made my way up to street level. As I was bouncing up the stairs (don’t bounce  much anymore at 84) I saw graffiti sprayed on the wall which said:

“Ain’t nobody gonna tell me what to do.”

Whoever sprayed this on the subway wall must have had a bad day at the office!

When coaching leaders on how to better build, serve and love their teams, I ask them to consider this before adding people to the team:

Has this person demonstrated that they can appropriately submit to legitimate authority?

It seems to me that we are living today (in the USA) in a culture where many, if not most, people don’t want to submit to anything or anyone. They want to be their own boss and not have anyone make rules for them and try to enforce those rules. We all desire to be free agents and call the shots. That was the beginning of all the trouble which started in the “Garden of Eden.”

I have come to this conclusion:

A potential leaders is not ready to be “In Authority” until they’re ready to be “Under Authority.”

When things go bad for an established leader, one of the first questions which is often asked is was he/she accountable to anyone?  Why didn’t someone see this coming? Did they lead while being under authority or while being autonomous? Does anyone have the permission and responsibility to speak truth into their life?  It’s being under appropriate authority and accountable that’s often missing when leaders fall and disqualify themselves.

One leader I coach recently set up what he calls an “Executive Counsel” to provide accountability and authority over himself. He picked five people to speak into his life and  make sure he doesn’t go off the deep end and do something really stupid and sinful. He is asking this group to challenge him, to make sure he spends time with his family and doesn’t overdo it on the work—which he frankly admits he’s  prone to do.

Unfortunately, too many times successful leaders have an increasingly difficult time listening to anyone but themselves.

“Wise men and women are always learning, always listening for fresh insights.” Proverb 18:15 The Message

By His grace I want to be a leader who is always learning, always listening for fresh insights. One way for me to accomplish this is to be under authority and accountable to one or more people.

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” ~ Basketball coaching legend John Wooden

Now, admittedly, there is appropriate and inappropriate authority and we need wisdom as to when we should submit and when we should protest and stand down. By-in-large, in my humble opinion,  there is too much protesting and too little submitting going on today—everywhere I look.

Experience has taught me that there are lots of leaders out there who are not under any authority, God’s or anyone else’s. They have accountability on paper but not in practice.

So, fellow leader, who are you truly under authority and honestly accountable to? A board, a supervisor, a friend who dares to speak the truth to you—no one?