Thursday, March 1, 2012

Positional and personal authority


Authority is an interesting concept. There are really two kinds of authority: positional and personal. Positional authority is based on one's position and responsibility in the workplace. Personal authority is the standing I have with others because of my behavior, values, treatment of others and morality. 

What is interesting is that it is possible to have positional authority without personal authority. Here, someone above us has title and position but does not have credibility or respect in our eyes. They think they have authority but it is actually a weak authority because they lack the trust of those they lead.

This is true of leaders at all levels whose personal lives, treatment of others, competencies, attitudes, or behaviors are not worthy of respect. Those under them may cooperate because they must but it is not a cooperation or followership based on respect or trust. And a leader who does not earn the respect and trust of those they lead is a leader who cannot truly lead. 

It is precisely these leaders who often make it clear to those they lead that they have positional authority over them ("I am the boss"). This is a sign of a lack of personal authority, a result of their lack of personal influence. Because they lack personal influence they are forced to use the positional authority card. Interestingly, those who must lead from primarily positional authority usually see those they lead as serving them, rather than them serving those they lead. 

This raises the question of which kind of authority is the most powerful. Without a doubt it is personal authority where people listen, respect, follow and cooperate based on who we are rather than position or titles we have. It is a life that has authority based on its authenticity, care for others, moral fiber and consistency. There are many who have personal authority but not positional authority. Personal authority is all about the influence one has with others and it can be very powerful indeed. 

Through personal authority, anyone in any position in an organization can have significant influence. In fact, in many cases, people who are not in positions of positional authority have more influence than those who are.

Healthy leaders lead from personal authority first and positional authority second. They are truly servants of those they lead which gives them huge credibility. Their lives and commitments give them influence with others and the respect of others.

All of us can develop personal authority and influence regardless of the position we hold or the titles we have. In fact, in healthy organizations only those who have personal authority are put in roles of positional authority.

TJ Addington of Addington Consulting has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness in both the for profit and non profit sectors. He can be reached at tjaddington@gmail.com





3 comments:

Judith Frost said...

I googled the phrase "personal authority" and found your interesting meditation. I wonder, though, whether you can really develop personal authority, or whether it is innate, akin to charisma. By the way, if you wonder why this is the only comment -- it's not that easy to register!

Julian Sammy said...

I'm working on a book called "Politie Politics: Succeed Without Selling Your Soul" and modes of authority are an important part of the story. Could you share your insights on expert authority - as a distinct mode from personal and positional? Here's my thinking:

Where Positional Authority is about what you can command and Personal Authority is about your reputation, Expert Authority is about what you can do. The kind of 'expertise' in this discussion is a combination of knowledge and skills that make you capable when others are not. Expertise is usually necessary for expert authority, but expertise does not grant authority automatically. The use of expertise to guide others to achieve a goal - that's expert authority.

Thanks for writing on the subject - your insights are helpful.

Julian Sammy said...

I'm working on a book called "Politie Politics: Succeed Without Selling Your Soul" and modes of authority are an important part of the story. Could you share your insights on expert authority - as a distinct mode from personal and positional? Here's my thinking:

Where Positional Authority is about what you can command and Personal Authority is about your reputation, Expert Authority is about what you can do. The kind of 'expertise' in this discussion is a combination of knowledge and skills that make you capable when others are not. Expertise is usually necessary for expert authority, but expertise does not grant authority automatically. The use of expertise to guide others to achieve a goal - that's expert authority.

Thanks for writing on the subject - your insights are helpful.