14. Jan, 2015


Is Authority, a Poor Substitute for Leadership?

One of my early management lecturers stressed that ‘authority was a poor substitute for leadership’. At first glance I felt like disagreeing with the idea but as I went deeper into actual management and administrative duties and practices I could see great merit in that statement.

Now after so many years of managerial responsibilities I not only find it to be believable but I see how easy it is for most of us in the day-to-day hustle of business to forget it.

Every management job has a certain amount of authority that goes with it but one of the finer arts of management dictates that we must use it sparingly and wisely. It is natural that everybody likes to have authority maybe because it makes us feel important. However, when we use it unnecessarily or in a way that makes other people feel unimportant, then it is not good management.

It has been my experience that sometimes it is incredible what a little bit of power does to people. I have witnessed that if you move some people up a notch or two in the hierarchy they begin to act so superior that we cannot or hardly be able to freely talk to them anymore. They begin to give orders and that is what matters to them. This may initially seem the fastest way to get people to respond. In some situations it may require instant reaction and perhaps it is justified but it is no way to build a lasting feeling of co-operation and loyalty in people in our fold.

Therefore my question has always been very simple. Can real authority be just handed to a person anyhow? I have had my doubts because to be really effective, it must be earned. I think it is not so much the authority of a person’s position or title that gets people to perform well as their regard for that person’s competence and ability.

The more able your subordinates sense you are, the more willingly they will follow your directions. So a person’s competence automatically gives that person a certain measure of authority. If people look upon you, for instance, as an expert on the subject, they will normally let you exercise all the authority you need to get the job done.

On the other hand, the people who do not respect the competence or judgement of their leaders will follow their lead grudgingly, no matter how much they are pressured. They will be more apt to drag their feet, resist what their supervisors want and maybe even throw sand or a monkey wrench in the gears.

It has been my contention that competent managers rarely feel the need to “pull rank” or throw their weight around. If they are confident that they can handle their jobs well they then should find no necessity to impress everyone that they are in charge. They will get better results and be better liked by relying on reason and persuasion rather than by just ordering people to do things.

Therefore, it would be sensible for modern managers to rethink about authority and look at the idea of good reason and the power of persuasion. 

Most of us can do more than we think we can, but usually do less than we think we do.