Authority, what does that really mean? Who gives authority? Who is authority given to? Is authority earned or is it simply implied upon a leader, a parent, a politician, a supervisor? The easy answer is; yes, in most circumstances it is all of the above.
Normally we think of having the authority to do something means you are in a position. At work you are given the authority to purchase products for your company or obligate funds in letting a contract for services. Police Officers are given authority by their state legislature, or the federal government which ever may apply. Supervisors in an organization are given authority to manage their business line and personnel. Maybe potentially the budget process behind all of that.
Who Has Authority
Parents have the authority to teach and oversee their children, teacher’s their students, and foremen their work crews. But what does the authority imposed on these individuals really provide them? Parents are certainly responsible for the children’s actions. Foremen are equally responsible for ensuring their crews get the prescribed work completed. Police Officers have a variety of authorities instilled on them to keep the peace and enforce the laws of their jurisdiction. Does it mean they (any of them) can do whatever they desire to get their job done? No, of course it does not. But outside of parents and Police Officers, the rest are imposed with some form of authority if they fail at carrying out their responsibilities. And trust me, not every parent nor every Police Officer carries out their given authority in way that society always agrees with.
My reason for this conversation however is not about those individuals that normally carry out their given authority, but about those that have the authority and fail to use it. Mankind is a funny group. There are introverts and extroverts, A-type personalities, Generation-X, Millennials and a number of other categorical groups to place people in. We have passive aggressive people, over bearing people, and tyrants. Shy people, aggressive people, lazy people and people who follow no rules what so ever. It’s no wonder leaders, managers and supervisors at all levels struggle with understanding their authority and then using it to make decisions and lead their teams effectively.
Every day, supervisors have to make decisions about employees when issues arise regarding their performance or behavior in the workplace. In some cases, even things that happen away from the workplace. A vast majority of supervisors do not know what authority they have been given for their assigned position. As such, many fail or refuse to take corrective action. It’s a bit like trying to assemble a child’s bike without using the direction book. You think “this is easy; “I can do this, it’s just a bike.“ Until the pedal falls off, or the brakes don’t engage. Taking action then is often too late, for the bike rider as well as the employee. A supervisor that is not sure of his/her authority is going to struggle.
Supervisors have to not only know, but truly understand when they assume any position, be it a leadership role or even the newest employee; what is my authority to act and who has given that to me? That is the first tenant in truly grasping what it means to be a successful leader of any kind; a foreman, team-lead, crewman, military leader, CEO, you name it… In order to lead or be a part of an organization’s success, I would consider Authority as the foundation to all that follows. Everything you do in your position on the team revolves around the inherent authority given to you and how you manage, use and carryout that authority, or fail to.
Here is learning and understanding a little bit about Authority, how it fits and impacts you in your quest to be the best leader you can be.
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