Leadership Distinction #31: Authority

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Leadership Distinction #31: Authority

Is your team following your lead, or complying with your Authority?

Persons with higher levels of responsibility in organizations are often referred to as leaders. But how much actual leading goes on is often questionable. What makes it particularly difficult to know for sure is the influence of what entitles this piece – authority. 

We may define it as the organization-granted right to direct certain resources to generate certain outcomes. More often than not these resources include people – people that are directed.

When people – you and I – are aligned with someone else’s authority we may respect it, we may comply with it. But it’s not something we follow. And so how do you know, in your holding down a so-called leadership position, if you are inducing people to follow you as a leader, or to merely comply with your authority and do as they are directed to?

One way to know if you are leading – and sometimes the only way – is to monitor the spirit with which people carry out their work. You can’t presume it simply by whether people remain in the organization; they may be without other choices at the moment. Look for the emotional element. Exercising authority is more like a push outward, whereas leading is more of a pull upward.

One way to ensure you are leading is to direct less and ask more. You may not always have this option. But the more you practice it the more useful the option becomes. If you pull for the input of those you are responsible for directing they are likely to follow this shift in practice. And we know what to call it when someone chooses to follow what you do and what you say – when they otherwise don’t have to. It’s not called authority.

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