A coach has authority over members of a team. If people report to you in the workplace then you have authority. In a family, parents usually have significant authority over their children until they no longer live together. By authority I mean a position in society, an organization, or a community that gives you the right or ability to direct others what to do within a particular context.
Authority is one form of power and it leads to various consequences to you and those you are able to influence with your authority. Even with the best intentions you will sometimes affect people negatively.
By being aware of how those in authority can lose sight of their impact on others, you will be more empowered to sustain and grow your capacity for good. Directly below I list and explain five practices for those who wish to sustain their capacity for constructive influence through use of their authority.
Remain aware of the impact you have on others
If you have significant authority, you may still feel that the power you possess to produce changes you would like to see is limited. This does not mean that your impact on others is limited. People in authority are rarely aware of how much influence they have over those subject to their directives. You are better off assuming you have more influence than you think. Then seek to learn about the kind of influence you are having so that you are able improve it.
Cultivate your capacity for empathy
According to Dacher Keltner at UC Berkeley, power is intoxicating and generally leads to a decrease in empathy. When your accomplishments are based on the work of others, there may be a tendency over time to view people as extensions of your authority. You may begin to lose sight of the humanness and uniqueness of each person. Therefore, the greater your authority, the more you need to intentionally exercise your capacity for empathy and consideration of others.
Develop other sources of power
Authority is only one form of power and on its own is limited. To accumulate the power to do good, one must augment the power of authority with other forms of power such as a well-developed network of connections, personal integrity, and extensive knowledge in your area of work. Sustaining power over time depends on your continued development.
Value and strengthen your reputation
Reputation is based on what others think of us. It can just as easily be taken away, as recent political elections have clearly demonstrated. Assume that others talk about your effectiveness without your knowledge. Don’t take your reputation for granted. Value it and build it through being effective in your responsibilities.
Thank people publicly for providing you with critical feedback
People are wary of those with authority because they have the capacity to create outcomes that will be personally detrimental. Therefore people subject to your direction may not provide critical feedback that you could benefit from. Many of those with authority say that they have an open door policy. This is far from enough, as people won’t make use of an open door policy unless you demonstrate that there are benefits to providing critical feedback.
You have to demonstrate appreciation for people who give you feedback on your behaviour: “I want to thank Sheila for pointing out that I sometimes don’t explain my decisions well enough…. I confirmed with others that this seems to be a prevalent sentiment. I am going to make adjustments and would appreciate you letting me know if my pattern improves or not over the next couple of months.”
In summary, to sustain your positive use of authority:
-Remain aware of the impact you have on others
-Cultivate your capacity for empathy
-Develop other sources of power
-Value your reputation
-Thank people publicly for providing you with critical feedback