Authority, Power, and Trust

Many years ago I read a book. (Someday I’ll read another.)  I can’t remember what it was about. In the preface The author wrote about “power relationships”. She had decided to live the rest of her life without them. By power relationships she meant any relationship based on the idea that, I have power over you or vice versa. She had to eschew all boss-employee relationships, certain teacher-pupil relationships certain personal and business relationships, etc. I thought it was pretty extreme but interesting and I started looking around at the power relationships around me. At a certain point in my career as teacher and community leader I realized that I was often in positions of power and found myself asking, “what gives me the right to tell other people what to do?” Easy answers were readily available but not good enough so I developed my own theories.

The Latin word for author is auctor and means one who originates or creates. Auctor comes from the verb augere which means to increase. I look to the word authority and I choose to see “author” as the important part of the word. I think of books, learning and writing. An authority is one who has special knowledge who has been granted a position of leadership in order to increase the well-being of the community.

There are three grants of authority that all leaders must attend to if they are going to achieve maximum effectiveness.

1.   The Official Grant.  This is taken care of when you are hired for the job or inaugurated ceremonially.

2.   The Personal Grant. This is faith in oneself. It should be checked up on and renewed frequently. It should be based on a real sense that the people in your care will  increase in personal power and well-being because of the work you have done and are capable of doing.  If you don’t believe in yourself, others may not believe in you. You must find out what you need to do in order to “psych” yourself up and then do it.

3.   The People’s Grant. The people in your care need to trust you. They need to see that you are trustworthy. In trusting you, they are giving over a bit of their power of self-determination so there is a sense of vulnerability. They will test you if you don’t appear trustworthy and sometimes even if you do. It is difficult to describe when this grant takes place. It depends on how vulnerable the people are, on where they live and common assumptions of their culture. With experience, you will learn to see it and what you need to do to achieve and to maintain it. I experience smoother communications, more smiling, and increased playfulness among other things. The grant of the people’s trust must be renewed frequently.

I think that a good leader needs to attend to the boundaries of authority. I believe that a good leader inspires leadership in others and that in a healthy community many if not most members should experience the responsibility of leadership in some appropriate capacity. It’s like conducting an orchestra. You stand on a podium in order to see and to be seen better. Then you help to coordinate everyone’s’ efforts by using your special perspective. It is even possible that if I should be able to conduct the next piece better than you, you could step down and let me step up.