Friday, November 30, 2012

Authority and power

Authority and power: often misunderstood; often abused; sometimes used effectively

I suggest the following about authority and power  :
  • Managers have authority by virtue of institutional/constitutional position, and power by virtue of their exercise of authority
  • Authority is the ability and the institutional right to authorize (to say YES)
  • With or without authority, you can always say NO (and gum it up; staffers do this all the time)
  • Power comes from the fear/threat/utility of the application of (authorized) resources
  • Really effective power comes from the ability to communicate, where communication means to be able to instruct/educate/persuade/motivate.
  • However, it's also true that a leader (less so a manager) without authority can still have power -- perhaps very effective power -- by virtue of their communication skill.   
Someone with authority but no real power can say "do this" but it won't get done or it won't stick. Stickiness is the real mark of power... say "do this" and it gets done, and it sticks! (No back channel work arounds, no problems of subordination; it just sticks!)

Of course, authority can segue into authoritarian.
We've posted on that before: