Who Cares About Authority When You Can Be A Leader?

As part of a training program I’m involved in at work, I’m learning a lot about leadership. More specifically, this unit is about organizational transformations and why management needs to be at the forefront, pushing new initiatives along the bumpy road known as change. What I’m finding most interesting is their in-depth discussion about the difference between authority and leadership.

Oftentimes, we use the words manager and leader synonymously. However, they most definitely do not mean the same thing. For example, you may be an upper level manager and have the authority to make certain decisions, but that doesn’t mean you know how to effectively lead your staff members. Here’s a fancy little chart that helps you better understand these definitions.



  • A conferred power to perform a service
  • The ability to deploy the power that comes with a position
  • Influencing the community to face its problems
  • Mobilizing group resources towards progress

When reading these definitions I start to think about the “leaders” at many of my workplaces. I have to admit, most of them were/are really just authoritative figures. They may have the ability to write me up and make important decisions, but very few have the courage to stand up to other managers and try to enforce the change that is needed. Instead, these so-called leaders follow the status-quo because they are afraid of change and/or don’t want to rock the company’s boat (which is inevitably seen as rocking their own career boat).

Working in an office where there are a lot of authority figures but no leaders leaves employees (and companies) feeling stagnant and old. It makes it less inviting for young workers that want to bring a fresh perspective to old ideas because instead of being welcomed with open arms, we’re shunned. It reminds me of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and it can cause serious turnover rates of young, very qualified employees. Overall, it just negatively impacts the morale and general functioning of an office when all you have is authority.

This is probably one of the best explanations I've ever seen of the difference between a leader and a boss.

This is probably one of the best explanations I’ve ever seen of the difference between a leader and a boss.

So, I ask you. What do you want to be? Do you want to be a manager that maintains all the norms and fulfills every expectation without questioning it? Or would you rather be the leader, who looks out for the best interest of the company and the staff, challenges “the way we do business,” and makes (and pushes for) the hard decisions that others are too scared to even suggest? Man, that sounds so much more badass than just having authority!

Personally, I’d rather be a leader and I’m attempting to fulfill this role at my office. It’s not easy though. Like I mentioned earlier, many people don’t like change and they will push against it with all their might. Don’t let that stop you though! You don’t need to be rude, overbearing, or an extrovert to challenge the status quo. Instead, utilize that confidence you’ve been building up, those brainstorming skills that got you through more than one work group, and that graceful tact you have during meetings. Wow management with your out-of-the-box ideas that will help the company reach new heights. With the right packaging and branding, anything can be sold. Now, get in the game even though it’s scary.

Remember, you don’t need a title to be a leader. Instead, “Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.” —Brian Tracy

Now, it’s your turn! What do you think about being a leader without having much authority? Is it a good idea or is it career suicide?


4 thoughts on “Who Cares About Authority When You Can Be A Leader?

  1. Great post! I definitely think being a leader is more important, although I have worked with a few people that I’d categorize as both leaders and bosses, which I think is the ideal combination. Overall, for me, this seems to emphasize how crucial it is to identify natural “leaders” and put them in management positions, where they can be most effective. Either that, or educate new managers/bosses on how to be also be leaders within their work environment.


    • I totally agree with the need to identify and/or groom individuals to be great leaders! However, I haven’t found too many training programs that are willing to outwardly say “Hey, it’s your job to push against the status quo a bit.” Have any suggestions on how we can get that viewpoint out there a little bit more?

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