I once called an employee to my office for a disciplinary conversation. I don’t remember the specifics now, but I do remember sitting and scratching my head afterwards. It seemed like what I was saying had very little impact. I had my director in the office with me and I asked her what was wrong.
Her answer: “You said all the right things, but it was as if she couldn’t hear you – like there was some kind of barrier.”
Looking back on it now, I know exactly why this disciplinary meeting fell short.
First, the employee did not believe I had formal or positional authority. She believed I wouldn’t (or couldn’t in this situation) follow-through. I held little true authority on firing in the organization. Several times I had gone to terminate someone and had backed away from it myself or had Human Resources tell me that couldn’t. We also had a very strong union and the many of the staff were quick to “union-up” anytime there was discipline. Often the negotiation in the room would cause me to down-grade the level of discipline, which further diminished my authority in the eyes of the team.
Second, I had not established a relationship of trust. Even if I could not fire her, we did not have a relationship where we respected each other’s insight and point of view.
Since that fateful day, I have learned (mostly by doing the wrong things) how to develop a relationship of mutual respect based on the five sources of authority:
Positional – based on your official position in an organization
Coercive – based on your ability to punish
Expert – based on the expertise the group believes you have
Reverent – based on the ability to influence a person or group through charisma
Reward – based on your ability to provide positive reinforcement
Here is the kicker: The team grants you authority. You can work to establish a type of authority by demonstrating your ability to penalize, reward, influence or convince. But, if the team does not recognize that authority, you have little influence. This happens in parenting, too.
If you are not being effective as a leader, it may be because you are implementing the wrong kind of authority. On the other hand, you may not have established the right kind of authority that your team needs.
If you’re having a hard time moving your team forward, let’s chat: