Authority vs. Power
Successful leaders are individuals with high levels of personal power. Understanding the difference between personal power and granted authority is a significant distinction. Many people have the tendency to use the words authority and power interchangeably; however, these terms refer to two very different aspects of leadership.
Authority is the right granted from a person or organization to another to represent or to act in a specified way. For example, a CEO of a company is given the authority by the Board of Directors to run the company. In turn, the CEO places managers in positions of authority over the various divisions, business units, or departments of the organization.
Power is the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others. Former United States President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, captured the essence of this definition when he said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Everyone possesses the potential to be powerful. Power is a personal talent that you can develop and use to achieve worthwhile goals. It does not depend upon title, rank, position, or authority. It’s simply the ability to motivate others to take specific actions.
Authority is granted but always has defined limits. Power is earned and can be limitless. Authority is derived through the position. Power is derived from an individual’s personal influence, which increases effectiveness. Two leaders in exactly the same position of authority can and will have different amounts of power. A person can possess a great deal of power and absolutely no authority. Conversely, someone can have authority and absolutely no power. Leaders who have not earned sufficient power sometimes make the mistake of trying to influence others by overexerting their authority. But excessive use of authority can cause employees to rebel in much the same way that children rebel against restrictive parents.
Effective leaders recognize authority as a valuable and necessary tool when used judiciously, and they invoke their authority extremely sparingly. Instead, they use the power they have earned to create a climate of trust, cooperation, and accomplishment in which people are positively motivated to pursue their own goals and the goals of the organization. In fact, the amount of responsibility you take on is directly linked to the amount of power and influence you possess. One way to further increase your personal power is to seek additional responsibility.
To be a successful leader, you must always be yourself. Be intentional about shaping your life according to your values and priorities. Trust yourself, believe in yourself, and be honest with yourself. Others will then trust, believe, and be honest with you. It is this foundation which enhances personal power. Excellent team leaders establish healthy open relationships with others. They foster mutual commitment in the pursuit of shared goals. Effective leadership is founded on cooperation never coercion.
Tammy A.S. Kohl is President of Resource Associates Corporation. For over 30 years, RAC has specialized in business and management consulting, strategic planning, leadership development, executive coaching, and youth leadership. For more information visit www.resourceassociatescorp.com or contact RAC directly at 800.799.6227.