Thursday, March 8, 2012

Power vs Authority: A Management Tale

A tale of two leaders, not entirely fictional.

Once there were two men, a big man and a small man. Both were entrusted with leadership roles over a number of employees. But the big man had worked his way up through the ranks while the small man had the benefit of shortcuts, never having had to work for someone else.

Now the big man knew what it was to be on the front line. He had learned through experience the tools of both good and poor managers. As he had diligently worked at entry level positions and over time grew in responsibility and stature to more senior roles, he had kept a keen and watchful eye to what had motivated him and his colleagues over the years. He watched as employees who were ruled with an iron fist usually accomplished only as much as they were required in order to keep their jobs. They were the first to leave at quitting time and seemed to be away as often as their sick days and vacation would allow. He continued to work faithfully even as he watched many of his fellow employees leave for other companies, requiring him to spend a great deal of his time training and retraining new recruits, only to see the cycle continue. He longed for a change, but continued to persevere, serving his kingdom faithfully.

Meanwhile, in another kingdom, the small man relished the power he had because of his position. In his kingdom he was the king! He would argue that the primary reason to have such a position is so that you didn't have to deal with the problems of those in lower rank. His employees were all disposable and he was happy to see them go so that he didn't have to be concerned with raises or improving working conditions. His motto was "There's always someone willing to work for little rather than starve." He surrounded himself with colleagues that would never truly speak their mind lest they earn his anger and wrath. He demanded the managers below him adopt his power-driven, dictatorial style insisting that "If they are willing to yell at their employees, they must be good managers." If anyone ever spoke against him he would bring out his mighty axe and smite them, sometimes just to show that he could. Unfortunately, because of his gifted high position, the small man continued on this way till the end of his days. He judged his own success only by the position he had been given and not by the responsible growth and well-being of his business and employees. And so his kingdom continued to struggle needlessly and those few that remained there did not live happily ever after.

But the story changes for the big man. For one day in his kingdom, the true king returned and was saddened to see he no longer recognized most of his own employees since so many had left. He removed from leadership those that had abused their power and recognizing the faithfulness of the big man he offered to let him lead in their place. The big man managed his charges with authority and with the understanding that they would best respect him if he also respected them. He was firm, but fair. He gave his employees opportunities to improve their own situations. He listened as they gave him considerate counsel. He paid them fair wages but just as importantly, he gave them opportunities to invest in their futures and the well-being of the kingdom. He lead them with a Consultative leadership and the employees felt good about their roles. They worked harder and longer than they ever had before, and with a glad heart. Sick days were hardly ever taken unless they were truly sick for they enjoyed sharing in the success of their workplace. Employees stayed and formed powerful teams increasing productivity and drastically reducing errors and mistakes. The kingdom prospered and grew. And in this place, everyone lived happily ever after.

History in all its forms: political, business, societal, all have taught the same lesson for thousands of years. In the battleground of management styles, Power vs Authority, Authority will inevitably deliver better results and success. Consider this common example... the person who yells at a fast food clerk to do their food "just right". It's true they'll get their burger with everything they asked for, but how often do you think they're also getting it with something that they didn't.

Everyone in a company, from the president to the janitor, has some level of power. And whether they use it for you or against you is often up to you.

Leave comments with your thoughts and whether you agree or disagree.

1 comment:

Performance PI said...

Yes, but... this seems to indicate that it's okay to let "power" run its course because some people need to have that kind of power and some people need to participate in it.

And... isn't power just one manifestation of authority... or visa versa. I understand your premise that authority comes with experience but authority can just be a position as well. It's credibility that comes with experience. Credibililty uses power and authority wisely.