Ye With The Most Authority, Beware

I hear from so many emerging leaders,  “I’ve got the responsibility, but I have no authority. How can I lead teams if they won’t give me the authority?”

Well, how is leading with authority working? Not well. We are not led by titles or power. We give leaders respect with titles or initials behind their name, and we pay them more money, or maybe give them a nicer office, that is not in question, but to lord their position over us as ruler, pervayeur of telling us things – that’s where we draw the line and push back. Some leaders may think their effort and education has earned them special privilege and money, when actually those things are given to leaders by their employees.

No one earns authority, it is given to the leader the team wants to follow.”

If employees can’t or won’t perform with their best work for a leader, the privilege and money goes away, just like the manager of a baseball team that is not winning games. Employees may only give enough effort to get their paycheck, may start bad mouthing their leader to others, or even worse, they may start sabotaging projects to make their leader look bad.

“We tell our employees all we do FOR them, while they tell others what we are doing TO them.”

Environment Rules!

As leaders our role is to create a safe environment, build collaboration, and seek learning from each other. And when dinner is served or we are boarding the flight – the leader should be the last one to be served or the last on the plane. Servant leadership builds us a stronger team. Authority leadership looks more like slavery. Leading with authority, in the end, get us disgruntled and unhappy employees. Without a safe environment, our attention turns to protecting ourselves, and we start the blame game – each of us looking to get ahead or get out. We are more worried about being wrong, so we don’t take risks.

Engagement – Good or Toxic Bad? – Duh or Huh?

It seems like 10 years ago the big word was “Empowerment.” More recently it has become “Accountability” and the next word of the year will most likely be “Engagement.” Certainly all these words are valuable and they each have their place. It is the over-use of certain words by bosses that seems to trigger the employee’s response. Engagement is desired by everyone, and yet some environments are so toxic, it seems better just to leave. If our struggle is that our values are beginning to wobble in order to survive a toxic environment, let along thrive, then engagement becomes less important and a goal too far away to reach. Rather, we focus on strategic dis-engagement from the organization – this takes planning, research, assessment of goals, and may be the opportunity necessary to engage you in a different pond. That is a lot of effort going into getting out instead of going into excelling at your job!

Noel Tichy is the author of The Leadership Engine and head of Croutonville, the famous learning center of Jack Welch and GE. Noel and I discussed at a conference one time, about bosses creating toxic environments and how to manage up. In fact, in our small group discussing this issue, there were many variations to the same question, and I recall Noel saying to us rather directly, “Look if they don’t get it – Get out!  I’d like to think these issues are solvable, but quitting in some cases is the right call.” We were surprised at first, as we were looking for some guru angle that would fix bad bosses – some magic bullet. Noel was so simple and clear and caused us all to pause and realize that if our values are being compromised no deal is better than bad deal!

Be the Big Brother/Big Sister, and less the Boss.


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