The Great Leadership Authority Giveaway

In these evolving times, leaders are encouraged to humanize their leadership and to bring their whole selves to work. This is hard to do when self-awareness isn’t high on the list of development activities that leaders gravitate toward. More frequently, leaders are trying to be “great” or “good” leaders by promoting an image of themselves instead of working to improve leadership competencies like conflict management, team building, communication, and performance management to name a few. Funny how leaders get the idea that they are doing things well without checking in to see how their employees are experiencing their performance.

Our effectiveness as leaders is a direct result of showing up human and using our position and personal power to make choices that are aligned with the priorities of the business and people. Acting like a leader instead of being a leader is disempowering to the person leading as it has no foundation that can be built upon. The fears that drive self-protective behaviour in people who lead are disempowering, either of the leader themselves or the people they are leading.

Many leaders don’t know what their role authority involves. Authority usually refers to the power to direct the performance and behaviours of subordinates, the issuing of expectations, mandates and instructions, and the process of exacting alignment to stated objectives and expectations from the workforce. While authority is defined as having the power to set goals, deliver expectations and exact compliance, it also includes the power to make decisions on behalf of the team, department or organization depending on the role.

While it’s important to have role authority defined in role profiles, the personal authority that a leader feels is a stronger determinant of whether or not they will make objective decisions and deal with interpersonal conflict in their role. Even at the highest levels of leadership, where status and ranking influence the amount of decision-making authority one has, the use of power is influenced largely by the personal power the leader uses.

Personal power is held or given away….

Leaders need to use their authority to get things done, while at the same time, having a healthy sense of entitlement to use their role authority. As a leader, you need to exercise authority to ensure followership and compliance from your subordinates in alignment with the organization’s objectives. Here’s where you have a choice. You can either hold onto your personal, authentic power or give it away to please others and support your image of the empathetic, caring leader. This isn’t effective leadership, it’s permissive. Becoming permissive is usually the result of a lack of leadership skills development and a fear of upsetting others. You can give away both personal and role authority because you don’t know what else to do.

Leaders need to become aware of their habit of giving away power by identifying how they do it in their everyday work life. Every time you decide or make a choice, you are exercising your authority to stay in alignment with your role expectations. Making decisions based on subjective or emotional reasoning causes you to make or not make decisions for fear of upsetting others. Essentially, you are giving away your power by deciding that subordinates know better how something should be done, or deciding to stay silent when you disagree or want something different. This handing out of power is a choice you make and yours to correct to lead authentically.

How do you give away your power?

There are many ways we leak or give away role and personal power as leaders and managers. Here are 5 of the more frequent ways they do this. See if you identify with any of these automatic disempowering behaviours and commit to doing something about it.

You silence yourself for fear that employees or peers will take things the wrong way or judge you

Anyone can misunderstand you if they are listening through the lens of subjectivity or through a defensive story about how everyone is always mean to them. Employees can be defensive and predisposed to accusing leaders of bullying them these days. This doesn’t mean that you, as a leader are off the hook and shouldn’t say anything. You need to develop non-defensive communication skills to make sure you don’t react to defensiveness or emotionality and to stay on purpose. Holding your power requires that you stay calm and focused, without getting caught up in convincing employees you aren’t a bad person. Additionally, you are entitled to speak up in meetings and not give your power to others for fear of being judged. Not saying anything for fear of what others might think or say gives them the power to control the narrative. Speak up, don’t get angry, depersonalize comments from others and stay on course.

You give in to emotional manipulation and blame others for manipulating you

Do a quick search of the internet to see how many people rant about narcissistic manipulation. If you are like many other leaders today, you know how easy it is to give your power away to narcissistic coworkers and employees. You can be manipulated by entitled employees who don’t meet performance expectations and threaten to quit if not promoted. You also let yourself be devalued in meetings by peers or do not correct them when they claim ownership of an idea or project because you don’t want to look petty or upset them. Taking back your power means that you must pay attention to your intuition and listen to yourself. Like the old expression goes, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” The second time around, you are deciding to let yourself be manipulated.

You don’t delegate

The belief that if you delegate you won’t get the result you want or that it’s faster to do things causes you to always have too much on your plate. You tell yourself you are too busy to teach anyone else but the reality is that having so much to do gives you a sense of power and control that’s hard to give up. Delegating can feel as though you are giving power away, while it’s actually the opposite. And it isn’t as though you are delegating the final decisions as they still must come to you for approval. If your personal power and authority comes from holding power and taking on more than you actually have time to accomplish, this erodes or leaks your authentic power as you are dependent on being busy or in control to feel okay.

You complain

As a leader, if you’re complaining about how busy you are, how no one helps you, how incompetent or lazy employees are, etc. remind yourself that you’re the boss and it’s up to you to lead your team to perform differently. No one is going to rescue you from yourself as it’s up to you to do something about it. If you decide not to, at least stop complaining about yourself. Think about whether you are offended if someone offers to help because of the idea that someone thinks you can’t handle it all. Remember both giving and receiving are qualities of a healthy authentic self and just because you can do more than others doesn’t mean you have to. Decide to lead yourself out of this pattern of powerlessness, let others help you and find other ways of feeling your power.

You don’t hold your boundaries and are angry at others for crossing them

Ever find yourself saying yes to an employee’s request for time off and then having to stay late to work because there is no one else to do it? Then you get mad at them for asking and not thinking how it would affect you? Because you are afraid of disappointing employees or that they might quit if you don’t, you say yes to people asking you for more than you should give. Or you are permissive with employees in the hope they will admire, appreciate or think highly of you for doing it. You don’t let employees know you have unspoken expectations and are secretly fuming inside when they deliver substandard work to you. Hold your power by remembering what your boundaries are and that it’s up to you to say no when required – not to make others happy.

Developing authentic leadership power

Most people in management and leadership roles have the potential to fulfill the requirements of the role to ensure employees are in alignment and meet expectations. It’s easier to complain about how others aren’t acting right than to look at how your own behavior is contributing to the issues. It’s up to you to stop the power leak as no one is forcing you to be permissive.

It takes time and practice to develop and tolerate authentic power — it’s sort of like a mental muscle that needs to be flexed constantly to become stronger. Put yourself in the driver’s seat in your leadership role by deciding how you want to lead, how you want the team and employees to perform, what you want to delegate so you have adequate time to continue your development, and how you want to express your unique abilities.



Anne and Heather are organizational and leadership development experts at Caliber Leadership Systems, a boutique consulting firm specializing in dismantling of dysfunction in organizations.  They are dedicated to empowering individuals, leaders, and organizations to achieve their potential by leveraging their expertise in the neurobiology of human development combined with system thinking approach. They wear many hats – Consultants, Executive Coaches, Trainers, Speakers and Authors – adapting their expertise and solutions to meet the needs of their clients. They bring a unique depth and breadth of knowledge and experience that gives clients the benefit of all of our disciplines to help them achieve their goals.

As experts in human development and behavioral change, leadership and organizational transformation, interpersonal dynamics and the achievement of potential, Anne and Heather have worked with thousands of leaders and individuals from around the world, been featured in dozens of publications, spoken at professional conferences, and written several series of books on personality type and the brain based on the Striving Styles® and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®.

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