Under Authority


I wanted to write a post on leadership. I can see two ways that this guide can be used. This can help when we are looking for a leader. This can also help when we are in a leadership role. If we are in a leadership role (all of us will be at one time or another) we often have no idea how to go about it. I wanted to offer something for people in both capacities.


When children fight often times the argument is over who is in charge. With my children this one thinks he should be in charge because he is older. That one thinks she should be in charge because she knows what is going on. I will ask one of them to tell the other something and they will ignore what they are told because it is coming from a sibling, so listening is not required. Then with me thinking that something is taken care of am frustrated when it isn’t. I find that my instructions are more effectively followed through when my children use an indirect leadership style. When one child tells the other, “Dad wants you to “____” it is much more effective. What of a manager? In our jobs we have bosses who sometimes can’t lead. Some people have no authority, act like they do and therefore no one does what they say. What is authority? Some people have it and some people don’t. How does someone recognize authority in others? If someone doesn’t possess authority does that mean they can’t lead? What of the people who are in a leadership position and they don’t possess authority? What are some things that people who lack authority might do?

Definition of authority

The dictionary defines authority as the power or right to give orders, make decisions and enforce obedience.  So based on the dictionary we see that there are in fact two types of authority. There is direct authority where a person is able to give direction and the direction is followed through with, simply because the leader gave it. The second type of leadership is indirect leadership. Indirect leadership comes from someone who gives direction that comes from someone else. Often when leaders who lack authority will still try to lead with a direct leadership style and will be ineffective.

The biblical view of authority

The Bible states this about authority in Romans 13:1-2: Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. So basically if we resist Authority we are resisting God. We are resisting God unless the leader wants something that isn’t biblical because all authority comes from Him in the first place. Know if someone has authority bestowed on them by God what does that look like? In the past I have been in contact with people who will pick leaders and want them in a role where direct leadership is required. If someone lacks authority from God they will not be able to use the authority that they don’t have. There are some people who have God’s authority who don’t want it and some who do. It makes no difference if someone wants authority if God has chosen to give the authority then you get it whether you like it or not. There is simply the choice of using the authority for positive or negative results.

Recognizing direct authority

So what does authority look like? How do we know when we see it? I feel that authority is most easily seen as influence. Influence is seen when others are compelled to follow someone’s actions or words. People with authority are often considered trend setters. When I look for a leader with direct authority for a position I also look for someone who has initiative, is likeminded or opposite minded (based on need or situation), and has initiative. Too often I see people fill a position within an organization that someone who has direct leadership capabilities is needed and the candidate chosen doesn’t have that ability.

Common mistakes for leaders who lack direct authority

What is common for leaders to do when he or she is in a position that requires direct authority and it is not a quality that is possessed? In my experience leaders who do not have direct authority and are trying to “fake it until they make it” do many of the same types of things to compensate. Often the leader will try to become friends with everyone. In this leader’s mind if everyone is friends then instructions will be followed. The problem with this line of thinking is that respect must be involved in leadership and making someone your friend doesn’t guarantee respect. Bullying tactics are sometimes employed when fear is deemed to be the most effective tool for leadership. In the movie Ironman Tony Stark asks,”Is it be better to be respected or feared?” I feel that fear is never a good leadership strategy. First no one likes to be bullied and second fear makes people unpredictable. If we use fear to lead someone somewhere will turn on us, or become unpredictable and that is never healthy in any environment. A leader that lacks authority will often keep members of the team uninformed. Sometimes this lack of information comes from a person who doesn’t know how to communicate. Other times the lack of information comes because the leader without authority knows that knowledge is power. If information is kept by the authority lacking leader then the leader can never be taken out of the loop. This style of leadership results in things not working efficiently. In addition to efficiency the team usually doesn’t trust each other and spends a great deal of time arguing about directions given to each member. If a leader who lacks authority tries to lead in a position like authority is possessed then the leader will look ineffective, clumsy, and sometimes just plain foolish. The leader will appear this way because they aren’t respected and seen generally by most people as an obstacle rather than a member of the team.

Indirect authority

The portion of leadership that can be taught is a leader who lacks authority and uses indirect leadership. Indirect leaders can be very effective if they understand what the objective is. Unlike people in a direct leadership role who have to be knowledgeable about what they are doing, people leading indirectly need to know very little about the subject they are actually in charge of. It is important that the leader doesn’t communicate this lack of knowledge to the general team though. When someone is in an indirect leadership role it is helpful to know the strengths and weaknesses of the team. When strengths are understood the team can be very effective and when results are provided the entire team benefits and respect is given in greater measure to the leader. The indirect leader can seem kinder because they have someone who is distant and higher up who is to blame for anything that the team isn’t happy with. For this reason it is easier for the team to show frustration and disagreement (which is healthy) and get back to work. Once the team complains about something the leader isn’t required to accept blame and can easily respond by saying, “I agree with you, unfortunately this is out of my hands”. Things that I look for in an indirect leadership role is that the candidate must possess a confident demeanor, ability to delegate, ability to rely on the expertise of others, people skills, ability to handle conflict, and follow through. The things that I look for when an indirect leader is required will be more specific than a leader in a direct role and the skill set is very specialized.

Which type of leader to choose?

When deciding which type of leader is better it really is situational and specific. There is no one leader to rule them all. When it comes to leaders who have authority and lead directly they can sometimes be in a supportive or indirect role. Leaders who don’t have authority can’t be in a direct role unless it is possible for them to use indirect methods.

What to do if authority is lacking

Everyone at one time or another is going to be in a leadership role. Not everyone has authority so what do we do if we don’t have it? If authority is lacking it doesn’t mean that one can’t lead. It only means that the leadership style will need to change. In my view it is very important to do a check to see if authority is possessed. If authority is possessed people generally know that they influence others. If an indirect leadership style is going to be cultivated then I believe that respect is very important. I don’t believe that it can be measured and is often underestimated to have respect involved with the team.  Once respect is taken care of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the team is important. When the team is understood then important tasks are delegated based on knowledge and skill. During this step it is important that pride doesn’t cloud judgment and also the leader doesn’t play favorites.  If tasks are delegated for these reasons it becomes a great sign of respect to be delegated to. When tasks are delegated it will inspire others to aspire to greater things. I if leadership is ever required for you or you need to find a leader this will help you get just around the bend!