• George Vasilca

Mysteries of Leadership - On Authority and Power

Now that the summer time is over and we're all going back to work, I will follow my regular routine by publishing two blogs a month. And of course, I will continue exploring one of my favorite mysteries of life - the mystery of leadership addressed in the second book DS2 "Seven Principles for Super-Effective Leadership" from my Diamond Soul series.


In two of the blogs dedicated to this topic and issued during the month of June, I introduced the first and second principles of leadership. The first prinicple states that the Diamond Soul Character must be at the center of your personality. The second principle enunciates that the best leadership model to follow is that of Jesus Christ. If you did not have a chance to read those two post, now it's the time to do it as a refresher for what's to come.





The 3rd Principle - Core Knowledge

The Third Principle for super-effective leadership is the principle of core knowledge. It states that you cannot be a leader of men if you do not have adequate expertise in your trade, profession, or other activity areas. An officer cannot be a good leader if he's not trained in military science. A pastor cannot be a servant leader if he's not, first of all, a good pastor. A businessman or government official cannot be a leader unless he's proficient in his professional field, be it marketing, economics, diplomacy, or human services.

Honing your professional skills should be a major goal of your learning goals. Remember, your attitude toward work and how well you do your job define who you are. Together, they outline your work ethics which is a major component of your Diamond Soul character.

Besides having professional knowledge, however, an aspiring leader must also study the art of leadership. This endeavor requires the acquisition of theoretical expertise, information, facts, and data from the vast fields of psychology, human relations, history and principles of leadership, mutual advantage, time management, behavioral sciences, and so on. There is no limit to the amount of knowledge you can acquire, so you must choose wisely what you wish to learn.

In this blog, I will introduces you to the fundamental concepts of authority, power, influence, and followers. They are critical for understanding and mastering the art of leadership in all its many embodiments.


On Authority and Power


Let's consider the biblical view first, the the secular perspective.


The Biblical View

The concept of authority is found predominantly in the New Testament, where the Greek word exousia denotes authority in several ways. The first is the freedom to decide or act without hindrance. The second refers to the power, ability, or capability to complete an action. The third delegates authority in the form of a warrant, license, or authorization. And the last one sometimes denotes the sphere in which control is exercised.


Christians believe that God has established three original spheres of authority within which he delegates authority to individuals. They are the civil government, the home, and the church. The believer must obey the individuals holding charge in those realms. Citizens are to defer to the governing authorities, children are to obey parents and elders, and believers must honor the church's spiritual power.


The Secular View

The dictionary defines authority as "the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience." The term authority is often used interchangeably with power. However, their meanings differ: while power is "the ability to influence somebody to do something that he/she would not have done," authority refers to a claim of legitimacy or justification and the right to exercise that power.


German sociologist Max Weber identifies three types of authority.

1. Rational-legal authority has its source in a rational-legal document, such as the constitution of a country. The president of the United States draws his power from the U.S. Constitution. The authority of a policewoman flows from her uniform and badge, the sure signs she is empowered to keep order on the streets.

2. Traditional authority has its roots in long-established societal customs or habits. Good examples are the father's authority in the family, elders' clout in a village, and monarchic rule in certain countries.

3. Charismatic authority flows from the personal charisma of an individual. In contemporary political life, the unique appeal of some statesmen explains their meteoric rise. There are many examples in history when such persons, starting from humble beginnings, ascended to legitimate power's pinnacle based mostly on their charisma.



Policewoman
Young Policewoman

Let's sum up those definitions:

• Authority is the capacity, innate or acquired, for exercising ascendancy over a group.

• Legitimate authority is being recognized as lawful and justified both by the ruler and the ruled.

• Power is the capacity to force others to follow your commands, with or without legitimate authority.


Life shows us that authority and power take many embodiments in all spheres of human activities:

• Spiritual authority, as exemplified by Jesus Christ, apostle Peter, Billy Graham.

• Moral authority, as embodied in Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi.

• Scientific authority, for instance Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Stephen Hawking.

• Financial power, as exemplified by Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, George Soros.

• Political power, as exercised by prominent American families such as the Kennedys, Bushes, and Clintons.

• Positional power, also known as hierarchical authority, is exemplified by elected or appointed individuals in government, justice, military, corporations, etc.

On Moral Authority

However, when asked which type of authority they admire the most, invariably, people answer "moral authority." Why is that? Most likely, because moral authority is not related to any form of positional power. It only flows from the character of the individual. We can say that moral authority is control based on principles which are independent of written laws. Because truth does not change, ethical clout principles are immutable, although their application to societal conditions may vary.


Such principles, which can be of a spiritual or religious nature, are considered normative for behavior, regardless if embodied in written laws or not. Therefore, the force of moral authority applies to each individual's conscience, who is free to act according to or against it.


So, what is moral authority? It is the capacity to affect people and events only through the power of one's character and belief system. In this book, the moral authority provides a new paradigm about our capability to guide people and impact events. It merely states that anyone of good character and high-value system carries a powerful moral authority as part of their circle of influence. If we use it wisely, we can offset any positional power that we may face or challenge it successfully if so desired.


On Influence


As we've seen above, authority or power may also be loosely defined as the "capacity to influence people and events." First of all, what does influence mean? Dictionaries provide several definitions, including, “A person or thing with the capacity or power to affect someone or something”


Influencing people simply means that I can convince them to do what I want them to do. And influencing events means I have the power to push things in a specific direction or oppose them going in another direction. The more people you have under your influence, the better chances you have to shape events.


Let's take a couple of historical examples: Spartacus, the gladiator slave in Roman times, became the leader of other slaves fighting for freedom, thus threatening the very foundation of Roman power; Martin Luther, the religious reformer of 16th century Europe, influenced millions of people with his call for reforming the Catholic church; the Protestant church was born as a result of his call.


Sociologists tell us that an average person will influence ten thousand other people during his or her lifetime. And this happens even without knowing it! Isn't it amazing? It denotes that I will affect every person I come in contact with in a small yet distinct way. But the corollary is also true: every person I meet will impact me in a minute yet specific way. In other words, each of us is influencing or being influenced by others always. Psychologists call this "social influence" because our interaction with society causes it.


Life consists of scores of influences every day that help us mold into the persons we are. Paraphrasing J.C. Maxwell, "No one can understand the mysterious thing we call influence…yet every one of us continually exerts it to heal, to bless, or to leave a mark of beauty; or to wound, to hurt, or poison other lives." This truth shows the considerable impact we, as parents, have on our children. The issue is not whether you influence someone; the problem is what kind of influence you will be: a good one or a bad one. This is the fundamental question.


On Leaders and Followers


If you Google the word leadership, you get millions of results, each definition being as unique as an individual leader. Leadership is a difficult concept to explain, perhaps because it means so many things to different people.


Listen to what great minds have said about it:


"The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things."

Ronald Reagan


"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

Martin Luther King, Jr.


Leadership is the art and practice of achieving desired results through others. Influential leaders are leaders who rely on influence as opposed to coercion. They create followers who want to follow, as opposed to followers who believe they have to follow. When discussing leadership, the best question to ask is not, "How does the leader lead?" but rather, "Why do people follow him?"



Woman in yellow holding a mike in left hand
Leader talking to her followers


Why do People Follow?


This approach brings the necessity to define what a follower is. According to Webster's dictionary, a follower is "one that follows the opinions or teachings of another." Psychologists agree that there are three fundamental reasons why followers follow a leader: fear, interest, and common cause.


Fear

From times immemorial, individuals who were heavier, more aggressive, and better fighters obtained ascendance over their kinfolks and were habitually raised to positions of power. Such chieftains tended to suppress any challenge against them, thus creating an atmosphere of fear. Therefore, we can say that people follow the leader at the most fundamental level because they are afraid of him. People know that if they do not do so, something terrible will happen to them. The leader knows this, too, and uses coercive power to create an atmosphere of suppression, even terror.


History is full of names of despots, tyrants, and dictators who ruled ruthlessly over their subjugated people: Nero, Attila the Hun, Ivan the Terrible in past centuries. Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro in modern times. The emotional connection between the ruler and the ruled is one of mutual distrust and dread. History shows that such relationships do not last and generally end up in bloodshed.


Unfortunately, fear is present in many relationships in current America, such as children fearing their parents, employees fearing their boss, and recruits fearing the drill sergeant.


Interest.

At a higher psychological level, disciples follow the leader because of some sort of personal interest, material gains, or expectations of favors. The relationship between leader and followers rests on an exchange of services: the leader offers security, jobs, prestige; followers provide skills, energy, and time. In this case, the leader uses utilitarian power in his relationship with other people. Most relationships in contemporary society are functional - they provide mutual benefits to all parties.


The relationship between employer and employees is a classic example. The drawback of this kind of relationship is that it leads to individualism; it does not foster a spirit of cooperation between the followers.


Common Cause or Ideal.

At the highest psychological level, followers follow the leader because he shows them the road to a common cause or ideal in which they deeply believe. Here are a few examples of common causes throughout history: religious beliefs, national independence, women's emancipation, justice for all, racial harmony, etc. But if we examine each cause or ideal closely, we will find that each stands on a first-order principle. In other words, the leader is only a messenger of a powerful principle that he articulates well and often.



group of young people rasing hands toward their leader
Young people and their leader

For this reason, the followers do not question the authority or competence of the leader; for them, it is enough to hear the message. Followers simply like, trust, and honor the message. The followers want to believe in it; they want to do what the leader says. This behavior is not blind devotion, mindless docility, or robotic subordination; it is genuine devotion of the highest order. Because of his followers' commitment to a powerful principle, the leader is said to yield principle-centered power.


Now that we've discussed what the concepts of authority and power mean, let's move on to find out what leadership is.


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