Authority vs Leadership

In a crisis people want leadership. Especially a scary one like we just had.

The part of leadership they want is Authority. It provides coordination, direction, security.

It doesn’t necessarily solve your problems, unless of course they are primarily about resisting intruders.

But we crave it.

A great insight from the leadership literature is that Authority is not all we expect from leadership.

We also expect help in solving our problems. Sometimes problems that require expertise or technical insight.

Sometimes problems that require adaptability, resiliency, personal and societal transformation.

Transformative change is hard to experience and be part of, and usually mere Authority doesn’t make it happen.

And, like the Rodney King Riots or the 9/11 Attacks or the 2008 financial crisis or any great adversity and challenge, the short term emergency is where the “extraordinary powers” work. Security. But fixing the people and the system takes you into tougher terrain.

Most dangerously, in moments of emergency and stress we most crave “mere” law and order authority and least realize that what we need is nuanced, realistic, look-in-the-mirror leaders. It is how we got into Iraq.

That makes leading the right way hard.

Now replace riots with revenue shortfall or stock price pressure. That’s the leadership problem for the CEO at say JC Penney or anywhere really.

Basically a snippet from Ronald Heifetz for you on a Saturday. More later.

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