4 Dimensions of Moral Authority

I’m currently reading the book, Servant Leadership, by Robert Greenleaf, which was initially published in 1977. The foreword was written by Stephen Covey, where he outlines four dimensions of moral authority. At the national level, it is tough to find evidence of moral authority anywhere, but in local rural areas, moral authority is alive and well. Here are the four dimensions, a short quote related to it, and a story of leadership exhibiting the dimension.

1.     The essence of moral authority is sacrifice.

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable . . . Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

-Martin Luther King Jr.

Last year, the State of Nebraska announced it would be developing Highway 83 from McCook to North Platte as a Super 2, which would add additional passing lanes on the 70 mile stretch of highway. For over two decades, Linda Taylor has worked with others locally and at the state to promote the highway. She has gathered dozens of personal anecdotes of individuals and organizations that travel the highway consistently. Linda is not a state or city employee, but a local retailer. She has always been involved in the community and this is one project where she sacrificed her personal time to make it happen. The improvement of the highway will make it safer and should increase traffic through McCook.

2.     Moral authority inspires us to become part of a cause worthy of our commitment.

“Be a good ancestor. Stand for something bigger than yourself. Add value to the Earth during your sojourn.”

-Marian Wright Edelman

McCook is famous for being the home of former U.S. Senator George Norris. Senator Norris recalled a time growing up when his mother was planting a fruit tree and George asked why she was doing it when she wouldn’t get the enjoy the fruits of her labor. His mom said she would not enjoy it, but somebody would. It is important for us to remember we are just stewards of what we have and it is important to add value for the next generation.

3.     Moral authority teaches us that ends and means are inseparable.

“7 Things that will destroy us:

            -Wealth without work

            -Pleasure without conscience

            -Knowledge without character

            -Commerce without morality

            -Science without humanity

            -Worship without sacrifice

            -Politics without principle”


Daily, I listen to the podcast, Marketplace. This last week they did a series looking at why no one went to jail from the financial crisis a decade ago. Although it is a complicated issue, it is apparent that corporate bankers were more concerned with quarterly profits than morality. The recent federal government shutdown shows we have politicians more concerned with winning than doing what is best for our country. It is important we don’t let the national models we see in business and politics serve as an example to us.

4.     Moral Authority introduces us into the world of relationships.

“Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, all achievement in real life grows.”

For most leadership examples, I think back to Pat McBride, who leads the New Student Enrollment Orientation program at the University of Nebraska. Two decades ago, when I was a part of the program, he included a variety of activities to develop our relationship with him and each other. These included a retreat, a night of swimming, and a dinner at his house with all 24 orientation leaders. I still keep in touch with him, as I know hundreds of other orientation leaders also do. The relationships he built and continues to build, help make the program fantastic and personally rewarding. He has not grown rich monetarily from his work at the University but has influenced hundreds of lives through his leadership.


When I hear or see national news, it is easy to get disappointed in the lack of moral authority, but at the local level it is alive and well. It is also important in our rural areas to not take our cues from the national scene, but continue to encourage each other in sacrifice, causes bigger than ourselves, having means that fit the ends, and building positive relationships.


Let me know:

What areas of moral authority do you want to improve?

What stories do you have that illustrate moral authority?

What are some of your favorite quotes that illustrate one of these points?