How to be Authoritative without being a Jerk
Fear only works when the big bad leader is present. The sigh of relief when jerk-leaders leave the room signals disengagement.
The most effective leaders are authoritative, not authoritarian.
Authority is permission to act without asking permission while being held accountable.
Successful leaders know how to take the bull by the horns – be authoritative – in ways that engage and energize organizations. They don’t trample people. They point the way and “go with” at the same time.
Authoritarian leaders believe leadership is about power rather than service.
7 ways to be an authoritative leader:
- Purpose. Leaders exist to serve. The purpose of authority in organizations is effective service.
- Parameters. Authority is made safe by boundaries and accountability.
- Align and explain your role in terms of organizational mission and vision.
- Define what you don’t do. Boundaries focus energy and protect.
- Exemplify organizational values.
- Learn. Authority often makes people feel they know when they don’t. You become authoritative when you learn from people who know more than you. Leaders become coercive jerks when they’re always the smartest person at the table. (Sarcasm intended.)
- Competence. Celebrate the competence of others without degrading your role.
- Engage. Authoritarian leaders say, “Do what I tell you.” Authoritative leaders get their hands dirty. Participation indicates authoritative. Isolation indicates authoritarian.
- Explain. Authoritative leaders explain what we are doing and why. Jerk-leaders leaders just want it done.
- Forward. Focus more on where you’re going than what went wrong. Backward facing leaders only lead into the past. They’re great at blame and repetition. Never point out negatives unless you’re ready to reach toward positives.
Push-overs can’t lead. Authoritative leaders are confident but not domineering, empathetic but not weak.
The power of authoritative leadership is respect; authoritarian is fear.
How might leaders be authoritative without being authoritarian?
Spot on! This is one of the foundation principles of successful leadership; wisdom which is invaluable from the start of one’s leadership journey until retirement – and beyond!
Thanks Jim. I agree. Getting authoritative vs. authoritarian right… or at least learning about it … is a game changer.
Dan I like the distinction you make that authoritarian leaders use positional power to lead whereas authoritative leaders use service as their leadership compass. I believe in this age of knowledge and knowledge workers that the authoritarian leadership model just doesn’t work today and, in fact, does more damage than good. The damage is not just to the organization and the employees that must suffer the authoritarian leader, but the damage is also to the authoritarian leader. An authoritarian leadership style will lead to unnecessary stress (which in turn leads to all sorts of negative well-being consequences) and often to derailment of the leader. I think another component of authoritative leadership is a collaborative style – perhaps this is a subset of your “engage.”
Thanks Valerie. Bringing knowledge workers to this conversation is important. Traditional management tends to think of employees as tools. Smart people don’t enjoy being treated like robots.
I think there is a connection between authoritative and collaborative. We gain authority when we respect – collaborate with – others who know more than we know.
Fearless (brave) leaders = often good
Fearful (cautious) leaders = sometimes good
Fearful (frightened) leaders = not so good
Feared (others afraid of) leaders = definitely not good
Thanks Valerie. Love the progression in your comment. Authoritarian/coercive/domineering might work in a crisis, when the house is on fire. But, it’s almost always negative, in the end.
This is a great post, Dan! Really agree with your “leaders exist to serve” philosophy. Unfortunately many people at the top of organizations have that turned around where “they exist to be served”!
Thanks Dave. Sad but true!
I often go the the Orchestra Maestro as a metaphor, its unlikely he can play every instrument, and its certain he can’t play every instrument with expert competence, so his talent is something completely different, not playing, leading… its seeing the entire picture, leading each member in his/her right place and timing, with an excellent understanding of their role…. His authority is rooted in his/her expertise to see in this way, and because of her ability to “tell each member what to do” together they produce something impossible as individuals…
Thanks Ken. Love the Orchestra Maestro metaphor. It really helps with the idea that the leader doesn’t know how to do everything. Yes, the team is better with them than without them.
I remember Ben Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic saying that his leadership changed when he realized the conductor doesn’t make a sound.
Wearing the velvet glove over an iron fist? Both are called for at times; good leaders know when to use which.
Thanks Bud. The idea that the glove is on the outside speaks to the idea that our first impression of a leader is empathy, kindness, grace, connectedness… all those powerful soft qualities. Someone said the soft stuff is hard.
Quoting #3: “Learn. Authority often makes people feel they know when they don’t. You become authoritative when you learn from people who know more than you. Leaders become coercive jerks when they’re always the smartest person at the table. (Sarcasm intended.)” Yes, it’s probably expected an educator would choose this one – all are good as usual by the way.
For me it really sets apart authority and authoritative! How sad must it be to believe you cannot learn from others – even more than other adjectives that also fit… Being older than dirt, I remember the ‘soda fountain / counter’ in drug stores, variety stores, even department stores. The person working there was referred to as a soda jerk! No more of these counters –> No reason for anyone to act like a jerk (never was except at the counter)!!!
Thanks John. Your soda jerk illustration cracks me up. You really pulled that one out of the past. I’m with you. A key difference between jerk and authoritative is openness to being taught by others.
“Never point out negatives unless you’re ready to reach toward positives.” Great line. I’m going to use this.
Thanks Terry. I hope it helps. 🙂 Enjoy
Great article, I know of 536 leaders in DC that could benefit from reading your article. Reminds me of the “push pull” leadership style, the rope only works in one direction, otherwise it has no strength.
I really like this article. What I have found in the past that it is difficult to show what Authoritative Leadership is about. It is a constant commitment to “watch” what you say and more importantly “how” you do it. I have direct reports that have offered me positive and constructive feedback on my approach. Of course the take away is to keep trying. People are not always on the same page, but a good working relationship requires a continued journey on learning to communicate.