Authority is the power or right to make decisions, give orders, obtain obedience. In a hierarchical system, a system in which people or groups are ranked vertically one above the other according to their status or level, authority is an important value that ensures decisions, orders and responsibilities are constantly respected. All organizations, pursuing efficiency, have, more or less intrusive, a hierarchical structure. Based on these premises we can say that the system invests the leader with authority and, at least within the boundaries of the organization, everybody complies with the rules and respects the leader’s authority. The leader’s power is not in question here, it is something given by the organization and unless for rare serious cases, no one should put it into discussion. How the leader exercises power is however an interesting matter of discussion because, in fact, a leader has multiple choices when it comes to exercising power, which broadly go under two main alternatives, the authoritative and the authoritarian manner.
Let’s start by clarifying that not all good is with one and not all bad is with the other. Both styles have a grey area. Both styles are, to some extent, efficient. Organizations should be considered as living structures, that don’t respond always at the same model but that dynamically change model based on the needs of the moment. Organizations pursue efficiency and effectiveness and these two words are the rule, whatever makes them happen is good for an organization, unless it implies other consequences that bring again inefficiency and ineffectiveness.
An authoritative leader engages the passion and competence of individuals to accomplish organizational goals. This is a leader that transfers inspiration, vision and passion to the team and establishes a collaborative climate in which every component feels the property of the project. The authoritative leader is appreciated and respected for his or her competence, motivation and commitment to the project. Following the leader, contributing to the project, bringing in personal competence is considered a privilege by the team. The leader never needs to exercise power because it is implicit and widely accepted, everybody understands the leader’s line of reasoning and his or her orders are shared by the team and functional to the goals of the project.
Authoritative leaders are the ones who exploit to the full the potential of the team. They are not obtaining obedience because they command, they obtain obedience because people surrounding them sense their personal path to leadership and are subject to their authenticity. True authority comes from the inside and people recognize this by instinct, they are fascinated by this inner power, they want to be included in the leader’s project. An authoritative leader will obtain things out of respect and will never have to impose decisions if not rarely, and if such a rare occasion arises, a look and a brief private talk, will be sufficient for others to realign with the leader. An authoritative leader is humble and available to discuss his or her decisions, provided that the final word remains to the leader. A high leader is authoritative, always.
An authoritarian leader takes decisions and gives orders. This leader is convinced to have a higher-level vision and approach to the project than anybody else. Authoritarian leaders have a traditional idea of leadership based on obedience and respect for position and status, they are high on demandingness and expect compliance from all concerned. The authoritarian leader is focused more on procedures rather than people, factors like control, order and high degree of dependency on the leader are typical. The authoritarian leader usually has a certain degree of appreciation by some because it gives the false idea that the leader knows what he or she is doing and has full control. It is a hard but reassuring figure. Teams and organizations led by authoritarian leaders run smooth and are characterized by low risk taking and relatively low involvement by the team which is mainly dedicated to execution. However authoritarian-led teams and organizations typically have enormous potential not yet exploited and that will never be. The authoritarian approach inevitably leads to an ordinary leadership.
In particular circumstances, when the situation requires extreme measures, it may be useful to adopt an authoritarian approach. The advantage of this approach in extreme situations is that decisions can be made quickly and actions activated immediately without the time required to involve others. Since the leader is the most knowledgeable individual in the team, it is his or her duty to take over full control in extreme situations.
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