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Leadership Series IX – Emphasis on the “AUTHORITY” of Leadership

The Ninth of Napoleon Hill’s 10 Major Causes of Failure in Leadership is EMPHASIS ON THE “AUTHORITY” OF LEADERSHIP.

“Efficient leaders lead by encouraging, not by trying to instill fear in the hearts of their followers. Leaders who try to impress followers with their “authority” come within the category of leadership through force. Real leaders have no need to advertise that fact except by their conduct, sympathy, understanding, fairness, and a demonstration of knowledge of the job.”

Well, it’s hard to argue with that! I believe that most leaders want to emulate this style of leadership: to be effective for the benefit of all stakeholders and to be responsible for a smart, healthy, and functional workplace culture.

Leadership is not about title, position, having a corner office with the best view, and certainly it’s not about the use of power, fear, or as Hill states, leadership through force. While I don’t believe that the use of authority to instill fear has ever been an effective leadership approach (even while widely applied), in our current age it should be considered obsolete, making Hill’s concern no longer relevant. This, of course, is debatable.

Why introducing an ‘us vs them’ (‘leaders vs workers’) division into the workplace was ever considered to be appropriate or effective in achieving superior results I will never understand. Yet there is something in the human psyche that yearns to hold power over others and exercise the authority of position and title over those who, ultimately, we are meant to serve. While it makes little or no sense to me, this shadow side of both leadership and human nature is real and requires self-awareness and careful self-management. This particularly applies to leaders in positions with the capacity to apply power.

I’m not saying that effective leaders do not possess some level of real authority. I’m talking about how they apply that authority, in what situations, to what degree, and in what manner. Every leader is going to bring their own set of traits and experiences to the party. Astute leaders stand back and observe their impact with objectivity and ask: “Am I being effective or am I being a power-fueled narcissist?”

I have especially observed the latter tendency in younger leaders and those in leadership positions for the first time. We all want to put a stamp of legitimacy on our position, but it is how we do so that matters. Early in my career I learned that jumping in and showing the team that I am the one in control was not the best way to win the team over and lead them to higher levels of achievement. This was not due to my wisdom at the time but was the natural outcome of my personality – I am proudly an introvert. Jumping in, pounding my chest, and shouting ‘my way or the highway’ dictums is simply not in my wheelhouse.

While difficult, achieving a high level of self-awareness along with awareness of how others respond to our words and actions has never been a more vital skill. This skill is akin to ‘standing back’ and observing ourselves objectively and impartially, truly ‘seeing’ what the response is to our leadership. One of my long-time favourite spiritual writers, Rob Bell, refers to this as being able to see the ‘you behind the you’ and to be open to what this type of observation can teach us.

Perhaps the most important area over which an individual must strive to exert authority is over oneself. If we are able to truly see ourselves in action then this high level of awareness should point us to where we need to turn as leaders – with compassion, understanding of others, and self-control.

There is another way to look at the question of authority. One can be considered an ‘authority’ in an area by demonstrating superior knowledge of and experience with its subject matter. I believe that this type of authority is vital to the success of any leader. This is not to say that leaders need to be experts in all areas, but they do need to have strong understanding of what is going on in all areas of the organizations that they lead. The people on the ground need to be the true experts and technicians; the leader’s job is to listen, empower, hold accountable, and get out of the way.

Being considered an authority implies that you are in possession of greater levels of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom than others and, as a result, you are looked to for answers. What if authority was more about admitting that you don’t have all of the answers and use opportunities to show your humanity by seeking answers, or at the very least input, from others on the team?

Knowledge is important and being considered an authority in one’s area is a true honour; but as I get older, I value wisdom in leadership more and more, over the authority that knowledge alone brings.

Authority is a right, given to leaders to achieve the objectives of the organization. Power is the ability of a person, or a group, to influence the actions or beliefs of others. If these two are put together by wise, humble, and compassionate leaders, results will come faster and more consistently, improvement will be steady and continuous, and the workplace will be healthy – not perfect, but healthy and functional.

Put authority and power in the hands of self-interested leaders who lack wisdom, understanding, and a sense of the greater good of the organization and you have yourself an unsustainable model. Desired outcomes will not be lasting or consistent and levels of morale, caring, and trust by valued employees will surely erode. This style of leadership almost always backfires, if not in the immediate term, then it will come to a head over time.

Okay, let’s wrap this up with a few random thoughts on authority:

· Authority is present, formally or informally, in all organisations, communities, and families.

· It flows from top to bottom in the organisation. Even in those with flat org charts, there needs to be some clarity on where authority lies, over what and for whom that authority applies.

· It is considered to be the supreme coordinating force because it binds together different individuals working in the organisation.

· It is used to achieve organisational objectives.

· If applied in a healthy manner and in service of the greater good of all stakeholders, authority is both needed and appropriate.

· Rather than fixating on who has authority over what and whom, spend more time thinking about different levels of accountability.

· Authority is the right granted to the leader to exercise influence, while power is the capacity to apply that influence and the manner in which that influence is applied. If power is not aligned properly with the assigned level of authority and is exercised without consideration, the culture will surely become unhealthy and desired results harder to come by.

· For authority to be effective within an organization the following conditions must exist: high levels of trust, shared vision of the common good of all stakeholders, healthy culture, favourable conditions in the workplace, mutual respect, cooperation and understanding. And as with respect and trust, the effectiveness of one’s authority is truly earned, not given.

Until next time!

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