Authority, Today's Dirty Word - Blog


Authority, Today’s Dirty Word

By: Heather Hilliard
January 5, 2019 
  4 min read 

There’s a movement afoot in business that is increasingly prevalent and problematic. We call it the anti-authority movement. It seems that leaders who demonstrate real power and authority are judged and thought less of, and those who make decisions based on how their people might feel are praised.

Have we suddenly fallen down a rabbit hole into an alternate universe where leading with authority and courage are disdained, and leaders are expected to manage the emotions of their direct reports, never making a decision without consulting everyone including the janitor?

Even writing this, we feel like saying “not that the janitor doesn’t have good ideas.”

There is no logic to the notion that leaders shouldn’t assume the authority given to them. Nor that leaders should never make decisions without first consulting their employees out of concern that they will feel left out. However, many leaders we work with fear that if they tell employees what to do or how things should be done, they are sending a message that the employee doesn’t know what they are doing and might be offended by such direction.

Why has authority become a dirty word?

It may have started almost 10 years ago when leadership books started emphasizing that the key to successful leadership was keeping employees happy. It likely gained momentum as new generations, especially Millennials, entered the workforce and started challenging the effectiveness of traditional, authoritarian approaches to leading. Finally, the constant barrage of fear-based messages from media and leadership experts to: not micro-manage; implement the ideas of employees (not those of leaders); and, give full ownership over the work to staff, likely pushed the pendulum to the point where leading with authority is not considered being a “good” leader, thereby making authority a dirty word in organizations today.

Today, we find leaders not understanding the type of authority that comes with being in a leadership role and how to exercise it effectively. The emotions of employees, rather than doing what’s best for the business, seem to be the new barometer against which decisions are made and leaders take action (or fail to take action).

Somehow, in order to keep employees happy, leaders have started abdicating their own authority as a leader, instead trying so hard to live up to some idea of how they “should” be leading based on their ideas of what a good leader looks like. At the end of the day, they are failing miserably.

Learning to lead with authority

It is important to remember that when leaders abdicate their authority, they are being self-protective. Basically, they are choosing to lead in a way that makes them feel safe, prevents their fears from becoming a reality, and essentially allows them to remain in their own comfort zone.

Leading with authority requires the right combination of building self-awareness, learning and applying new leadership skills and addressing systemic barriers that exist in the organization that reinforce the belief that leaders need to be nice and keep employees happy at all costs in order to be “successful”.

Using authority effectively as a leader is possible. The first step is to acknowledge that your leaders are being too permissive, and then a specific roadmap to support your leaders can be laid out.

Originally Published on LinkedIN – Heather Danitsaris-Hilliard’s Profile – November 22, 2018

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