In the latest Marvel Comics movie “The Avengers” Captain America fights with a team of super heroes the likes of Hulk, Black Widow, Thor, Hawk Eye and Iron Man to ward off an alien invasion of earth.
In the midst of the street fighting against the evil spawn Captain America lands on top off a group of NYPD officers desperately trying but failing to keep the order. Captain America, true to his military training and confident in his leadership skills, starts automatically barking out orders — form a perimeter there, secure this street, get eyes on the roof over there, etc. The captain of the squad says, “Why should I listen to you?”
Suddenly a dozen alien warriors descend upon Captain America with savage attack. Before the eyes of the police officers, Captain America uses his super-human shield to deftly resist, defend and totally obliterate the aliens.
Immediately the captain of the NYPD squad turns to his men and basically repeats word for word the strategy earlier called out by the super hero.
This short scene from the film reminds me of an aspect of effective leadership: Our words mean nothing unless they are backed by our own willingness to put our selves on the line. Authority resides in the leader’s genuine, authentic behavior. People will listen when we lead by example.
If we preach social justice, we better be pounding the pavement ourselves. If we preach prayer and a balanced work life routine, are we doing those things? If we tell people to invite a friend to church, we better be inviting at least ten ourselves.
When the leader’s life reflects this kind of integrity, you can’t argue with that. People will follow.