Utilize Power and Authority Effectively

From the dawn of recorded history, the right to exercise authority has been tied to ownership—ownership of land, property, or the means of production. Authority derived from ownership is delegated to leaders with the expectation that they will use that authority to further the interests of the owner. Thus, authority is inherent in your role as a leader.

By accepting a position within the organization, team members recognize the authority of the owners and their duly-appointed representatives—the leaders. Over the past century, however, workers and their unions have asserted their own rights and responsibilities. Leaders at all levels have become increasingly sensitive to the collective wishes of team members.

Authority’s companion is power. No matter how much authority top leadership delegates to you, the ability to enforce that authority comes essentially from you. No one else can give you that ability—it comes from within. That ability is what we call power. While power can be withheld or prevented by top leadership— or even by a union contract— it cannot be automatically granted by executive order or via e-mail. It is possible for leaders to have authority because of their title but to lack any real power to exercise it. Lack of power may be a result of the leader’s own personal qualities, or waning influence may stem from unrealistic constraints imposed by top leadership.

Power is built over a period of time through multiple complex actions and reactions between you and your team members. It is primarily a function of your personal competence and credibility. While power is sometimes tenuous and fluctuating, it does tend to grow and stabilize as you demonstrate your integrity in its use.

Power and authority are extremely important because they provide you with a practical means for achieving organizational goals through leading the effort and productivity of other people.

Authority and power, wisely used, are never dissipated. They are enhanced by practice and personal growth. A leader who uses authority and power skillfully finds that team members are less likely to resort to personal power plays or to develop opposing blocks of power. Instead, team members are motivated to work cooperatively with others.

Both authority and power are most effective when they are least evident. In fact, authority has failed when power must be used to enforce it. When your authority is respected and fully recognized, you are able to function without invoking the use of power. You can, by your authority, give a direct order; but if, instead, you make a request accompanied by an explanation, you build a reserve of goodwill and respect. Team members then feel inclined to follow your suggestions and honor your requests without the need for an overt exercise of your authority.

When team members demonstrate substandard performance, you can use your authority to fire them, or you can use your power to train and coach them until their performance is acceptable. The latter course capitalizes on true leadership. Activate your personal resources, and you enjoy, as a result, increased power, respect, and loyalty.

The areas where your authority and power are most visibly called into play are discipline situations and enforcement of rules and policies. As a leader, you stand between your team members and top leadership. You also stand both for the organization and for your team members.

Your team members look to you to interpret the purpose and desires of the organization. When you respect the policies of your organization and enforce them, you are showing positive regard and esteem for your organization. Your attitude enhances the respect your team members have for the organization and for you. As their respect increases, motivation grows and productivity soars.

When team members know that their leader supports the organization, their respect for that leader increases. In contrast, leaders who lack a strong organizational base are viewed as personally weak and unworthy of the power they possess. The feeling seems to be that a leader worthy of organizational backing is worthy of power; and by extension, a leader unworthy of organizational backing is unworthy of team member support.

Leaders who enjoy the backing of other organizational leaders have earned it through their knowledge of the business and their competence or expertise. The most effective leader uses power fairly and with a “soft touch.” But effective leaders are also decisive; as a result, the number of occasions calling for the use of power are minimal. Effective leaders possess ample power, but use it sparingly.

Leadership Management® Institute
Reprinted with permission
Strategic Essentials is a Managing Partner for Leadership Management® International, Inc.

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