What Kind of Authority Do You Have as a Leader?

There are two kinds of authority leaders possess: positional authority and relational authority.

Positional authority is the authority that comes from title, rank, and status. It’s the authority you get from the hierarchy of an organization. Relational authority is different. It’s the authority that comes from the trust and respect of others. It cannot be demanded, but is given freely (or not) by your followers.

It’s possible to have positional authority without relational authority. All of us have worked for someone like that, and it’s painful. Think Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss or the Office’s Michael Scott.

It’s also possible to have relational authority without positional authority. Again, all of us have worked with someone like this. The gal or guy in an office that everyone goes to when they need something done. This person appears nowhere in a formal chain of command, but their influence is felt everywhere.

The leadership effectiveness of a person with positional authority without relational authority is limited. Yes, they can tell you what to do, and, eventually, you’ll do it. But only because you have to and only what’s absolutely necessary. The leadership effectiveness of a person with relational authority and no positional authority is also limited in their leadership. Sure, they get things done, but when decisions are made, they’re usually not in the room. And that diminishes their ultimate impact.

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Those who operate with high levels of leadership effectiveness possess both positional authority and relational authority. People give their all for leaders like this. They follow them anywhere–and freely do their best work–because they respect both the person they are and the position they hold.

Here’s how to become this kind of a leader:

  1. Practice what you preach. In other words, lead by example.
  2. Honor your word. When you say you’re going to do something, do it. No exceptions.
  3. Be real. Drop the chest-thumping bravado and ego-driven head games.
  4. Give credit to others and accept blame yourself. Most leaders do just the opposite.
  5. Say sorry. When you make a mistake, admit it, openly and honestly.
  6. Never give up. Cling to the courage of your convictions, even (especially) when things go bad.

Rate yourself on a scale of 1 – 10 for each of the six leadership effectiveness items above, and ask yourself, “What kind of authority do you have as a leader?”