Where Does Authority Come From? A BlogPlay

Here’s a BlogPlay of a recent conversation I had with a new client, a leader who was frustrated. Let’s call him FL for Frustrated Leader.

FL: I’ve made great inroads in the technology department. The team has really come together.  My supervisor is pleased.

Me: That’s great. What’s the problem?

FL: I can’t seem to get the same leadership going or have the same impact in the marketing department.

Me: Hmmm… Well, what exactly is your job?”

FL: I am the Director of the IT department.

Me: I see.  . . So, what is it that you are doing over there in marketing?

FL: Well there’s been a vacancy in the leadership over there, and I want to help that department. I know so much about social media marketing, and I think I can introduce some profitable ideas, and boost their morale.  But they’re just not on the same page, and I want to change that.

Me: And that’s not going so well.

FL: Right.

Me: Why do you think that is?

FL: Maybe I don’t have enough vision. Maybe I’m not communicating well with them. They’re not getting it. I want to be able to have the same impact over there — but for some reason I’m not.

Me: Well has it been made explicit that you are helping out in the interim?

FL: Ummm… a little. Not completely.

Me: So does it state anywhere in your job contract that you have been hired to do marketing?

FL: No.

Me: I see. Well, you don’ have an influence problem. Or a leadership problem. You have role confusion.

FL: What’s that?

Me:  In your job as the director of IT, you’ve done great. I understand you want to branch out and help out, but you were not hired to lead the marketing department . . . It’s simply not your role. You have no authority over there.

 Silence.

Me: So in your current position, how are things going? Are you bored, or itching for more?”

FL: Yes, things are pretty steady there. I suppose I am a little bored, and I know I could do good things in marketing.

Me: So the leadership risk is to make your desire explicit to those who can authorize you to make an impact in the marketing department. That would be the first order of business as far as I can see it. Being direct about wanting to transfer or augment your position.

Then, if you are granted it, you can step into the leadership that that role affords, and see what the real issues are at that point.

FL: Yes, this makes sense. I feel better . . .  And a little worse.

Where does authority come from?

When you are working in an organization, your authority does not come from you, it comes from the role you were hired to do. It comes from the task you are contracted to carry out.

Because your authority comes from the position, it is not personal. Your style is personal. When your job authorizes you to direct people into action and hold them accountable for good performance, you are not being “mean” or “bossy” unless you are directing them with an incredibly harsh or commanding tone.

This concept is difficult for well-meaning leaders to remember.

So I’ll remind you first to remember that your authority comes from your role:

  • when you feel for any reason that your leadership is not effective
  • when you have to direct people to perform or hold them accountable.
  • when you have an impulse to focus intensely on a new project
  • or even — in a family role, like parent — when you have to put a hat on your protesting child when it’s 20 degrees out

Then: Check in by asking yourself: Is the action I want to take in accordance with the task I was hired to do? And if the answer is yes, go for it.

Confused about authority, leadership or team-building? Don’t hesitate to reach out. 

4 responses to “Where Does Authority Come From? A BlogPlay”

  1. Terri Klass says:

    Terrific post, Blair with a topic many leaders grapple with constantly!

    Recently I have been coaching some individuals in an organization on the area of : Influencing without authority. The problem is that many of us are in positions that don’t give us authority in terms of our job description, yet we need to work with different areas. I think if we try to build meaningful relationships with people in other departments, they are more open to working with us when we have a request.

    This is such an important area to explore.

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Terri,
      Thanks as always for stopping by and lending your wisdom.
      My stance is that there is a difference between the authority granted to us by the role we are hired for and the personal authority we use to run our lives. Often leaders confuse the two.
      You are guiding people to bring their personal authority to work and bridge it through relationships. As long as it is in the service of enhancing the work that they were hired to do, it’s a blessing.
      Thanks, Terri!

  2. Brian 'Smith says:

    Great post Blair. LOA (Level of Authority) – if you over step your LOA it’s difficult to make change or get buy in

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Right! That’s because it’s not your job to make change in the areas you have not been hired to do so.Even if your influence is accepted at first, it will backfire later. But if the area of change you are trying to influence is within your LOA, then go for it.
      Thanks for stopping by, Brian. Always nice to see you here.

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