How to Be a Leader People Want to Follow

January 22, 2008 | Ray Pritchard

Recently I was asked to speak to a group of youth leaders on becoming a credible, authentic leader. In preparing my first message, I decided to focus on two key words.

According to the dictionary, the word credible comes from the Latin credo, meaning “I believe.” If something is credible, it is believable. A credible witness is one whose testimony is trustworthy. His life and his words line up together.

The word authentic goes from English back to French back to Latin and ultimately to the Greek authentikos. It means “conforming to the original” or “reproducing the essential features” of something, as in “authentic French cuisine.” If something is authentic, it is not a fake or an imitation. Collectors will pay a lot of money for an authentic Abraham Lincoln signature. Another definition says that authentic means “being actually and exactly what is claimed,” and the example given is “genuine maple syrup.” Not watered-down, but maple syrup through and through.

During our recent trip to Bolivia, we were given two $100 bills to cover the cost of the visas we purchased at the airport in Santa Cruz. One of the bills was the newer version, with the larger figure of Benjamin Franklin and the various watermarks and embedded security strips. The other bill was old and wrinkled. When we got to Miami on our way back home, Marlene was refused when she tried to use the older bill at one of the airport shops. They said it was counterfeit. When we got back to Tupelo, the people at the bank looked at the bill and said it was good but that the clerk who rejected it probably did so because it looked old. Marlene took the bill and spent it as fast as she could so we wouldn’t have to worry about it any more.

To be credible means that you are believable.

To be authentic means that you are genuine and real, not a fake or phony.

Put the words together and a credible, authentic leader is someone who can be trusted because he is what he professes to be. He is the real deal, what you see is what you get.

Which comes first? Authentic must come first. If you are not authentic, you will not be credible.

In preparing this message, I happened to find an article on credibility in the workplace in the Nova Scotia Business Journal. Here is part of what the article says:

The greatest temptation managers face today is a desire to appear a “Superman” to their followers; perceived as perfect, flawless, impenetrable, and invincible. Perhaps managers even wonder, “Why would anyone trust and follow me if I’m flawed and vulnerable?”

Consequently managers and supervisors get caught up in a game of being right, and if not right, act as if they’re right anyway. This is reminiscent of parents who might not know why they’ve just given a command or punishment to their children, but feel comfortable with, “Because I said so” as the ultimate answer to save face. The irony is that followers at work – just like children at home – know that their leaders aren’t seven-foot-tall and bullet proof. The attempts to create the illusion of perfection, just distracts and takes away from whatever credibility was there in the first place.

Credibility is the key ingredient in leadership: The Latin root word is “credo,” which means “I believe” or “I trust.” Credibility, like credit from a bank, is given to those who are trusted. Therefore credibility is given to leaders whom the followers find believable. If you’re not believable, nor trusted to represent yourself honestly, you will have little credibility with your followers. It may be the biggest paradox in leadership; knowledge is honored, while pretending to have knowledge is disdained.

How to build credibility without being bullet proof: The answer to the paradox is found in being real, or authentic.

We have a problem with credibility in the evangelical world. Pollsters tell us that confidence in religious leaders has declined in the last few years. With all the scandals involving ministers, it’s not surprising that people look at spiritual leaders with jaundiced eyes. While it’s always easy to point fingers at others, perhaps we need to do our own housecleaning first. This week a friend emailed me with some disturbing words:

I have a good friend who has access to the major media star lights in ministry (radio, TV, etc.). He is deeply saddened at the carnality that exists when they walk away from the microphone. He told me last year that very, very, very few of them exercise humility, as he sees it, and many people would turn the dial if they knew how these men talked and conducted themselves in private.

Let me frankly say that I don’t know who my friend’s friend is or which “major media stars” he is talking about. I am sure there are some who fit this description. I know there are some who don’t. Here are few observations about credibility.


1) Credibility is earned over a long period of time.

2) Credibility is not about what you do or what you say. It’s about who you are on the inside.

3) You cannot demand credibility.

4) You cannot fool the people closest to you forever.

5) Your ministry will have lasting impact in direct proportion to the integrity of your own life.

6) The great enemies of credibility are pride, arrogance, isolation, and excessive self-confidence.

7) Ironically the more gifted you are and the more successful you are, the easier it becomes to fake your way through life.

8) Credibility once lost is very difficult to regain.


What qualities mark a person as a credible, authentic leader?

1) Honesty.

2) Willing to admit your faults.

3) Consistency.

4) Kindness under pressure.

5) Accountability in the small areas of life.

6) Willing to answer hard questions.

7) Quick to take blame, quick to praise others.

8) Not taking yourself too seriously (lack of pomposity).

9) Knowing your own limitations.

10) Not blaming others for your own problems.

11) Confrontable.

12) Approachable.

13) Handling anger appropriately.

14) Not offended when others get the credit you deserve (no need to brag).

15) Keeping your word.

There’s another word for living like this. We call it integrity.

Forks of Cypress

Several years ago my older brother took me to visit a cemetery outside Florence, Alabama, near the remains of an ante-bellum mansion called Forks of Cypress. The mansion was built in the 1820s by James Jackson, an early settler of northwest Alabama. My brother and I walked among the ruins of the mansion and then crossed the country road into the dense forest on the other side. After a quarter-mile we found the Jackson family cemetery. There is no sign marking the spot, only a five-foot high stone wall surrounding about 50 graves. Inside we found a tall marker over James Jackson’s grave with a long inscription extolling his virtues, which were many.

As I walked along, my eyes fastened on the marker for one of his sons. There was a name, a date of birth and a date of death, and this simple five-word epitaph: “A man of unquestioned integrity.”

Five words to sum up an entire life. Sixty-plus years distilled into five words. But, oh, what truth they tell.

“A man of unquestioned integrity.” I cannot think of a better tribute.

The Ultimate Man of Integrity

There are many men and women of integrity in the Bible. Any list would have to include the following:Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, David, Nathan, Jehoshaphat, Elijah, Hezekiah, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Zerubbabel, Haggai, Malachi, Mary, James, Peter, Paul, John, Titus and Timothy.

These men and women stood tall above their contemporaries because they could not be bought or sold. They stand out in the biblical landscape like towering mountains rising above the flatland of unbelief, compromise, and idolatry.

But in all the Bible one man rises above all the others as the preeminent example of integrity–Jesus Christ.

He was the only truly blameless person who ever walked this earth.

A Tribute From the Other Side

No one could pin an accusation on him and make it stick. Not even his enemies.

In this regard Matthew 22:16 is a very important verse because it tells us how his opponents sized up his character in the last few days of his life. The statement comes from the Pharisees who “laid plans to trap him in his words” (v. 15). They sent some of their well-trained disciples to trick him with his own words. Ponder carefully their opening remarks to him:

‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘We know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.’

This isn’t just a compliment. It’s an honest evaluation of Jesus by men who intended to murder him. Even his enemies had to admit his integrity.

What does integrity involve?

1. Your reputation: “We know”

2. Your commitment to truth:

a. In words: ” You teach the way of God”

b. In relationships: “You aren’t swayed by men”

3. Your consistent lifestyle: “You pay no attention to who they are.”

Even as they attempt to trip him up, his enemies must confess that his reputation, his commitment to truth and his consistent lifestyle made Him a man of integrity.

Why is this important? Because if his enemies had “anything on him,” now would be the time to bring it out. If Jesus has any skeletons in his closet, this is the place to display them publicly.

But they didn’t because they couldn’t because Jesus was exactly what he seemed to be. His life matched his lips, his deeds matched his words, his character backed up his claims.

A Man Without Guile

What you see you is what you get. Such a man is hard to find these days. To use an old phrase, a man like this is a man “without guile.”

For over thirty years Dr. John Walvoord served as president of Dallas Theological Seminary. He is remembered around the world for his many books on theology and Bible prophecy. He was a big man with a commanding presence, and when I was a student I was always a bit intimidated by him.

One day in Greek class I heard my professor make an offhanded comment that stuck in my mind: “Dr. Walvoord is a man without guile. When he speaks, you don’t have to wonder what he really means. What you see is what you get.”

“A man without guile … what you see is what you get.” Those words flashed into my mind as I thought about being credible and authentic. It occurred to me later that I’ve never heard anyone else described as being “without guile.”

Is that because so few of us really live that way?

1) A credible, authentic leader tells the truth even when it hurts.

A man going through a bitter divorce committed a moral sin, which if discovered, might affect the disposition of the community property. Fearing that his wife had somehow found out, he vowed that even if asked, he would lie on the stand. “Don’t do it,” a friend said, “You can always get your money back, but you can never get your integrity back.” Why compound one sin with another?

Truth is the heart and soul of integrity. Unfortunately we live in a culture that has come to view truth as a disposable item–we tell the truth when it helps us, we shade the truth when we need to, and we lie if we have to. No wonder confidence in American institutions is at an all-time low.

Jesus said,”I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). Jesus is on the side of the truth. Whose side are you on?

2. A credible, authentic leader keeps his promises.

Psalm 15:4 says that God blesses the man who “keeps his oath even when it hurts.” Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 warns against making rash and hasty vows. “It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it” (v. 5). This has some very practical implications, such as:

Keeping your appointments.

Arriving at work on time.

Paying your bills on time.

Not overpromising to get an order.

Telling the truth about your product.

Refusing to exaggerate.

Abiding by the terms of the contract.

Staying within your budget.

Remembering her birthday.

Attending your son’s ball game.

Getting out of bed when the alarm goes off.

Finishing the job.

Giving him the money you promised.

Giving back the money you didn’t spend.

Most of us intend to keep our promises. Our basic problem is overcommitment. We promise too many things to too many people with too little thought. You might want to highlight the next sentence. People of integrity make fewer promises but keep the ones they make.

Joseph Stowell offers a helpful word for those of us plagued with the problem of overcommitment:

I’m a classic overcommitter and have often contemplated starting Overcommitters Anonymous. I bet there would be a lot of us in the therapy sessions. We’d would sit around and say no. We’d say no in mad, happy, slow, and fast ways; in French, Russian, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Creole. We’d applaud and cheer when someone finally got up the courage to say no for the first time in his life, and we’d hold each other accountable. Want to join? (Shepherding the Church into the 21st Century, p. 267).

3. A credible, authentic leader confronts problems when it would be easier to walk away.

When someone asked General Norman Schwarzkopf the secret of his success, he replied very simply, “I never walk past a problem.” Another friend put it this way: “Just remember, when it comes to solving problems, the first price you pay is always the cheapest.” We ignore problems, hoping they will go away, but that rarely happens. And the price of solving them goes up, not down.

Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.” Or as the King James Version puts it, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Better to have a friend tell you the hard truth than have somebody try to butter you up and cover up the hard things you need to hear.

Whenever I think of this principle my friend Randy Miller comes to mind. One year he served as the Chairman of the Elders in the church I pastored in Texas. I soon learned Randy had a certain method of doing things. He was very orderly, not given to flamboyance, very much an administrator, always committed to doing things the right way.

We met almost every week to discuss the work of the church. He always carried a little pocket-sized spiral notebook with him. Over the course of a half-hour we would review the affairs of the church, checking off the items on his list one after the other. He’d go over all of his points with me, and then he would turn the page. The second page would always be about me. He would say, “This is hard for me to say, but when you said that last week in the sermon, you didn’t mean it this way, but this is how some people took it.” Or, “When you didn’t take time to talk to those folks, they were really hurt.” Or, “I know you think we ought to do this, but I’m not sure it’s the right idea.” Or sometimes, “You said this and you shouldn’t have and you need to do something about it.” Over time I discovered this: he was always right. He was a friend who loved me enough to tell me when I was making a mistake. Would you like to know how I feel about Randy Miller today? Although I haven’t seen Him in many years, I consider him a dear friend. He’s welcome in my home any time.

You Can’t Fool God!

There is one final fact I need to add. You can’t fool God! He knows the truth about who you are on the inside. Nothing is hidden from his penetrating gaze. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable”(Hebrews 4:13 NLT).

He knows the truth!

If that thought doesn’t frighten you a little bit, you are fooling yourself. He knows every word before you say it, every thought before you think it, every deed before you do it. You’ve never surprised God, and you never will.

And that brings me to the closing words Psalm 139.


Search me, O God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm139:23-24).


Writing about this passage in a recent sermon, Brian Bill points out that God wants us to invite him to search us. That’s a stunning thought. The God of the universe, the One who already knows me through and through, wants me to invite him to do a thorough search of my life from the inside out. Here’s another way to say it. “Lord, show me the truth about myself.” That’s a dangerous prayer because if you mean it, God will definitely answer it. Go someplace quiet and ask the Lord to reveal to you the truth about yourself. When we pray that way, the answer will begin to come from heaven. We sit and wait and pray for the Holy Spirit to show us our weaknesses, our faults, our mistakes, our bad attitudes, our foolish words, our pride, our arrogance, our need to be in control, our need to run the world, our need to tell others what to do, our desire to have our own way, our anger, our bitterness, our lack of mercy, our lack of love, our lack of compassion. Let me tell you something from personal experience, if you wait long enough, the Lord will always show it to you.

In asking God to evaluate ourselves, we are really asking these 4 things from verses 23-24:

* Search me. Come in, Lord, and check out every hidden place in my life.

* Test me. To see if I am pure and true.

* Tell me. Let me know what you find.

* Help me. Show me how to correct my ways – lead me the right way.

Don’t be afraid to ask God to point out offensive stuff in your life. That’s not an easy thing to do, but it can lead to personal liberation. So many of us struggle precisely at this point because we waste so much time trying to have a better past. But you can’t do that. It is what it is. The sooner you face the truth about yourself, the better off you will be. As someone has said, “A good person desires to know the worst of himself.

The Whole Truth About Ray Pritchard

J.I. Packer writes these encouraging words:

I am never out of God’s mind. There is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted from me, no moment when His care falters…There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself.

I underlined one portion of that quote because I find it very encouraging that God’s love for me is “utterly realistic.” He knows the whole truth about Ray Pritchard and loves me anyway. I can sleep well at night knowing that the Lord isn’t fooled by anything I do or say.

He knows all there is to know about me.

The good, the bad, the ugly, and all the “in between” stuff.

And he loves me with an everlasting and “utterly realistic” love.

I’m glad about that.

Here is where we will end in our quest to become credible, authentic leaders. To be authentic means “conforming to the original.” For the Christian, that means conforming to the image of Jesus Christ. Becoming a little more like him as time goes on.

Walking in his steps.

Talking as he talked.

Loving as he loved.

Forgiving as he forgave.

Enduring as he endured.

Praying as he prayed.

Leading as he led.

Serving as he served.

Loving as he loved.

Dying as he died.

True Christians have always prayed, “Make me like Jesus.” If you want to be a credible, authentic leader, take a good look at the Son of God.

Become like him.

Make him your model.

Study his life.

Follow in his steps.

Ask the Holy Spirit to reproduce in you the essential features of Jesus.

If you don’t know where to begin, I urge you to use this prayer in your devotions this week:


Heavenly Father, I invite you to shine the light of your truth into every part of my life. Thank you for knowing me completely and loving me anyway. Search me, try me, test me, and show me what you find. Where I am not honest and true, do whatever it takes to make me credible and authentic so that my life will bring glory to you.

Make me like Jesus so that people who follow me become more like him. Amen.


Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?