Power v Authority

We all know there’s a difference between power and authority but it’s easy to get the two mixed up! For leaders, in particular, it’s important to really nail your understanding of the two concepts to ensure there’s no misuse in your leadership.

Going back to basics

  • Authority is highly official in nature and is usually given to an individual by others. It comes with boundaries, certain tasks to complete and goals to reach.

  • Power, on the other hand, is not always official. Power stems from one person having access to something that other people do not – it could be information, contacts, a certain position or many other factors – and this access sees them having power over others.

The two ideas are not unrelated, however. In a study by the Center for Creative Leadership it was revealed that 41% of the leaders surveyed felt as though they would feel more powerful at work if they had more formal authority. In the same study, however, they also found that 28% of respondents said that power was misused by top leaders in their organisation.

It seems that although authority and power are different ideas, they are intrinsically linked and many leaders find themselves unable to separate the two – often leading to an abuse of power.

What should you do with your authority?

There are plenty of leaders who have been thrust into a position of authority without feeling ready or qualified. It can be overwhelming to find yourself in such a position, with a set of responsibilities, goals and targets. The best thing for any leader who finds themselves with official authority, whether they feel ready or not, is to recognise the natural power that comes with such a position.

Being in a position of authority means that many people will be looking to impress you, to sidle up to you so they can receive some form of benefit – with that comes a lot of power. Don’t be blinded by it, recognise it.

So, what should you do with your power?

Whatever source your power stems from, it’s important to be using your power to empower others. Leaders who abuse their power are those who like to lord it over the people around them, to use their power to unjustly punish or sparingly reward their team. Power can be used for good; we see this in the ever-quoted examples of Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela whose power inspired others to step up and create change – change that has rippled throughout the world.

When it comes to using power for ill, even more names come to mind, a testament to how careful all leaders must be with the power they hold. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin – even fictional leaders like Voldemort from the Harry Potter series – are known for using their power to oppress others, to put themselves at the top and to only be interested in their own agenda.

These are, perhaps, extreme examples to look at but they are show us clearly how easy it is for leaders to cross the line into abusing their power. The extremity of these examples also means that we can clearly see how these leaders cemented their place in history – those who chose to use their power for their own gain have, more often than not, been thwarted by the very people they wanted to dominate.

How will you use your position of authority and the power that comes with it to boost your team’s performance?

Are you ready to use both your authority and power to effectively lead your team to success? People Make the Difference can help. To find out more, visit www.pmtd.com.au or call us on 0412 333 415. Try our online leadership training videos – $99 for complete access. Great value if you’re committed to growing your leadership potential.