Authority erodes, but influence lasts forever

“I have a dream…” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Unlocking value in your organization requires a certain kind of leadership. It means stepping up and doing it yourself, not usurping authority or transferring it to someone else.

A well meaning business vice president tried doing just that. “If Joe says something, it’s like me saying it,” he said. Needless to say, this was a disaster.

So what is the best way for a leader to effect change?

Authority Erodes

Being a leader is equated with authority, but it’s a double-edged sword. Take the presidency. Most presidents ride the high of a hope-filled election into the first days of office with a high approval rating. But then they usually succumb to the second term curse, leaving office with lower ratings. Many factors contribute to this phenomenon, with erosion of authority being one of them.

Google defines authority as the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. When tasked with driving change, it is tempting to believe that the right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience will ensure success. This is the philosophy for people who say, “If only I was in charge,” or “If I was the boss, I would make it happen.”

The problem is that over time, those you are trying to change grow weary of authority. Wrong decisions or unpopular actions will lead to passive aggressive behavior and dissension.

The other problem with authority is that people follow because they have to, otherwise they’ll get fired and lose their source of income. Consider a dictator, who has power by forcing compliance through a paid army. When the money runs out, the army dissipates and the system falls apart. Similarly, when authoritarian leaders leave or get distracted, the business dissolves.

In the long-term, authority simply isn’t sustainable on its own merits.

Influence lasts forever

In contrast to an authority figure, think of someone who has had a great influence on your life. Most of us can recall such a person, be it a parent, teacher, public figure, or someone we encountered in everyday life. This person showed an interest in you, had a vision of the future, or was simply a wonderful role model whose traits you wanted to emulate. This person likely engaged your mind and made you think about the future. Even if this role model had no real authority over you, he or she may have helped changed your direction and possibly helped set you on your current path.

The change agent who is able to influence who he or she is trying to change has a much greater chance of sustainable improvement. This is more powerful than authority. Martin Luther King is a great example; he had an army of people helping him despite many not being paid.

Help lead the change in your organization by being more than an authority figure. Influence others. Inspire others with your vision.

Assignment: Ask one of your staff to write one paragraph that answers the question: “What inspires you to want to work here?”

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He is also the founder of UTV Advisors, a business consulting firm based in Pittsburgh, PA.

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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