The Consequences of Confusing Authority with Leadership
by Steve Smith
When organizations don’t function as effectively as they should, it’s the people in charge who are held accountable. Many times, the approach to getting things running smoothly is to rely on one’s authority to clarify direction and performance expectations. When managers confuse their authority with leadership, the consequences to turning an organization around can be problematic.
There are times in your role as the leader when you must rely on your people to take your direction, follow your lead or work extra hard to overcome challenges your organization faces. You don't expect them to always like it or like you for requiring it, but you do expect them to be fully engaged and get the work done to your level of expectation, right? When this doesn't happen, do you use your authority or your leadership ability to make sure you get the outcome you are after?
It's times like these that inexperienced managers learn the consequences of confusing authority with leadership. They assume that the authority granted them as a part of the position they hold is enough to command whatever is necessary to achieve the desired results. Indeed, having sufficient authority to direct your staff is important under any organizational structure. But authority alone is not enough to oversee a team of truly dedicated employees that will go to the wall for whatever initiative you need accomplished. While authority is granted, leadership must be earned!
If you find yourself having to constantly ask that tasks be performed or feel you need to justify every directive you give to a subordinate, you have not earned a position of leadership in their eyes. They will do what is necessary to keep you off their backs but they will probably not go the distance to turn in great performances. So, how do you manage effectively relying less on your authority and more on the power of leadership?
1. Leadership requires communicating your vision:
People tend to dedicate themselves to a cause they identify with. Once they have embraced the cause, they will follow whoever has the ability to connect them with that cause. Get their attention by creating a vision for your business or department and making it clear to everyone around you. As long as everything your business or department does relates to your vision, they will see that what they are doing relates to the cause they seek.
2. Leadership requires empowering them to engage:
Often times, managers will simply dictate objectives and tasks to people around them without regard for their employee's perspectives or contributions. Soliciting feedback on how to accomplish something promotes engagement. Instead of just delivering edicts about what you want, convey how the objective promotes the vision and ask the employees involved for their ideas on how they can accomplish it. People are much more likely to achieve what you expect if they feel they have a voice in how it gets done.
3. Leadership requires monitoring their progress:
This is the phase I find most managers stumble through. By not giving your employees room to do their work without you hovering over them, you convey your lack of trust in them to do the job. A better way to monitor their progress is to establish check points throughout the process so the employee knows what you expect. They do the work the way they know how to do it but they are responsible for updating you along the way. With this approach, you convey trust in them to do the work and they develop trust in you for making your expectations clear.
4. Leadership requires balancing your critique with some appreciation:
So many times, I see managers fumbling this by lavishing praise on an employee only to end the conversation with a criticism of something the employee has not done. Balanced feedback doesn't mean combining a positive comment with a negative comment in every interaction. It means recognizing good work when it happens and counseling people on how to improve when things don't go right. As you interact with your staff, be mindful of showing gratitude for them and their efforts. A well placed note of appreciation should not be as rare as Haley's comet!
Truth is you could be a highly effective leader without having much authority at all. This scenario plays out in any number of charity or civic organizations. What's important is that your team understands the mission, respects you for your ability to get them there, and trusts that you will always be honest and fair in your assessment of their efforts.
Confusing authority with leadership can be resolved with time and continual practice. Once you understand how much more successful you can be with real leadership as opposed to authority, you just need to refine your approach by continually practicing the techniques I've described above. After all, your employees will need time to adjust to your new approach and trust that this change is not just another 'flavor of the month management style' but the new, genuine you.
About the Author:
Steve Smith is an experienced executive coach and President of GrowthSource Coaching based in Orange County, CA. Steve works individually with business professionals who want to achieve top tier effectiveness in the organizations they run. Steve graduated from Frostburg State University with a degree in business management. In his spare time, Steve writes articles from a variety of business publications, travels with his wife on his motorcycle and cares for his adopted greyhound.