#81 Potent Alternatives to the Use of Authority

Potent Alternatives to the Use of Authority

In the previous blog I outlined five practices that sustain the power of authority for positive and constructive uses. In this blog I explore in a more focused manner the relationship between authority and power, and suggest two ways that skilled authoritarians can best use their power.

I have observed that highly competent leaders, managers, and authoritarians use their authority sparingly. They know that authority is a limited resource to be saved for select or controversial initiatives. During normal operations, they make use of other forms of power.

Think of a situation where someone who is subject to your authority comes to you with a problem. You have a good idea about how to solve it, but you don’t share it. Instead, you ask a question to stimulate the person’s thinking and ask him to come back tomorrow.

The person came to you – the authority figure – wanting to avoid errors, seeking your experience and guidance. Instead of providing it directly, you provide it in a roundabout way; you essentially give the problem back to him. Through your action, you send an important set of unspoken messages:

– Your belief in the capacity of the person to come up with a good solution;

– Your wish for people to explore problems before making decisions or taking actions; and

– Your preference for collaborating and sharing your power, rather than using your authority to direct.

By empowering those around you in this way, you build a stronger and more interconnected organization or network. When power is shared collaboratively, collaborative power increases geometrically. If you share power most of the time, people will respect your authority when you need to make an unpopular decision.

In another type of situation, you see either a problem or opportunity for those subject to your authority, but they may not see what you see. You certainly can direct their actions, relying on the authority you have banked from sharing power at other times. Indeed, in some circumstances you may need to be directive, but is it your preference to pursue a solution or new direction without your people agreeing with it or understanding it?

Instead of announcing a directive, create a vision of what is possible and why it is worth aspiring to. When people understand what they are trying to accomplish and why, they will get behind you and work tirelessly towards that vision. They need a picture of what is possible. Creating a vision for people takes more time initially than being directive, but it saves time in the long run and adds additional benefits to your working relationships.

Forceful use of authority works in the short term, but it becomes increasingly ineffective over time. Consider using it only when you have to. In the vast majority of situations, it is not required, and will reduce cohesiveness in the long run compared to more collaborative methods.

This blog suggests two practices to augment or replace directive use of authority:

1) Give problems back to those who bring them to you with some guidance in how to work with them;

2) Create a compelling vision that inspires people to action.

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