There is a boundary line between exercising authority and being authoritarian. People who find themselves in positions of power must be keenly aware of the differences if they will be effective leaders or tyrants. Once someone becomes drunk on power it is improbable that he or she will be able to dial back their feelings of entitlement to rule rather than govern.
During my early adulthood, I encountered this situational difference in the workplace. The radio station was a family owned and operated enterprise. I was hired by the founder of the business. Gregory was a large, imposing man. He was an Army veteran who served in Europe during World War Two. His personality was firm and assertive. To his credit, Gregory was a fair-minded man. He genuinely listened to his employees and often sought out our constructive suggestions about how to make the business more effective. I thought of my boss as a good father figure. His authority was well-deserved and respected.
Approximately during my first-year anniversary at the business, Gregory announced his retirement, he had sold the station to someone from Los Angeles. Terrance had been a patrolman employed by the Los Angeles Police Department. Meantime, Gregory would act as a station consultant for the next year. Terrance’s plans for the station were quite ambitious. The first goal was to expand the company from its status as an AM daytime station to include an FM station on the air daily from 6:00 in the morning until midnight. This was accomplished largely by following Gregory’s advice.
After the FM station’s launch, the business environment took a turn towards authoritarian rule. Terrance imposed a mini-police state upon his employees. He became highly averse to suggestions. Terrence enjoyed issuing memoranda that read like harsh manifestos. Station employees’ personal boundaries were frequently disrespected. His rule was absolute, “my way or the highway” type of thinking.
Employee turnover became a chronic problem. There were several instances of newly hired veteran announcers working for a few months, then resigning. Some of them did not remain more than a week. Terrance was not respected by his employees; he was feared and abhorred. Eventually, I finally resigned from the station. I enjoyed a great sense of relief after freeing myself from the petty dictator.
The person of authority has the intellect and wisdom to achieve her or his goals without being overbearing. The wise leader earns the respect of others and never needs to impose it. Her authority is freely granted by her followers. The wise leader does not abuse that trust. A person of authority understands that success depends upon a lot of give and take.
Meantime the authoritarian mainly gives in order to manipulate. The authoritarian’s goal is to take as much as possible.
In our lives we may encounter skillful consultants, financial advisors, attorneys, effective employers, or more rarely, a wise politician. These people serve us with qualified expertise. They provide measured leadership that positively benefits his colleagues and the community at large. In some cases, they fill the role of a mentor or advocate who shows the way to outcomes that benefit us. A leader of authority teaches autonomy by way of positive example. Such a person respects independence and personal boundaries.
You might know someone who exhibits quiet power. He refrains from bragging and showing off, but he is the most respected person in the office. He seems to draw deep power from his higher self instead of sapping it from people around him. He has the necessary restraint to refrain from letting his position puff up his ego. He does not use his position to persuade and manipulate people to gratify his personal desires. He does not set out to make others feel disadvantaged or inferior.
The effective person of authority is decisive yet broad-minded. She or he does not go down the road of dictatorship. Such a person uses intelligence, understanding, and compassion to make critical decisions. Such leaders are mindful of their responsibilities to society as a whole. Such people continually seek integrity in themselves and others.