Authority in Leadership: Finding the Right Balance Between Control and Empowerment

Authority in Leadership: Finding the Right Balance Between Control and Empowerment
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Simon Sinek posted on LinkedIn (

Leadership is not just about being in charge; it's about creating a positive and effective organizational structure. Authority in leadership is a complex issue that requires a delicate balance between control and empowerment. Let's explore the different types of authority in leadership and how they affect organizational dynamics.

Authority is a process of negotiation between people communicating with each other. It involves voluntary leading and following. This means that authority is a relationship between people and requires the consent of both parties. However, this idea that authority is a relationship between people may not always be voluntary in organizational structures.

In the authoritarian approach to authority, force is used to get subordinates to follow instructions. This is not true authority, but a form of exercising power by force. Here it is clear that mechanisms of operant conditioning or means of transactional leadership style are used.

In the patriarchal approach to authoritarian leadership, a single person takes charge of a group of people or an organization. This type of leadership is often characterized by a top-down approach in which the leader makes all decisions and controls all aspects of the organization.

Paternalistic authority, on the other hand, is when a patriarch cares about people only as long as they are grateful and useful to him. This type of authority is often found in organizations where the leader has a close personal relationship with his or her subordinates.

Anti-authoritarianism in leadership occurs when someone in a leadership position refuses to take responsibility for leadership when people expect him or her to do so. This can lead to confusion, frustration, and disorientation in an organization.

When there is a vacuum of authority, cliques of fast, loud, and strong people form to dominate the group without regard for their interests. This is because diffuse responsibility leads to structures that prioritize the interests of the individual over the interests of the group. It is important for leaders to be aware of this and to work actively to prevent the emergence of an authority vacuum.

In the 1970s, political theorist Jo Freeman published her research on the tyranny of structurelessness [1]. Her research highlighted the problems that arise when there is no formal authority structure in an organization. Without clear lines of authority, power can become concentrated in the hands of a few individuals, leading to the exclusion of others and the perpetuation of inequality.

Agile practices have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially in the technology industry. Agile methodology emphasizes flexibility, collaboration, and continuous improvement, allowing teams to respond quickly to changing circumstances. Interestingly, the use of agile frameworks can also lead to a strengthening of transformational leadership.

Transformational leadership is about inspiring and empowering people to achieve their full potential. This includes creating a shared vision, encouraging creativity and innovation, and fostering a sense of community and collaboration. Agile frameworks can facilitate this type of leadership by creating an environment that encourages openness, experimentation, and learning.

In an agile team, leaders are not only managers or supervisors, but also facilitators and mentors. They encourage team members to take ownership of their work and to collaborate with each other. This approach can create a sense of shared responsibility and accountability, a key aspect of transformational leadership.

In addition, agile frameworks are designed to support continuous improvement, giving leaders the opportunity to adapt their leadership style and develop new skills. This constant evolution can be empowering for leaders and team members alike, leading to a more dynamic and innovative culture.

In summary, understanding authority in leadership is critical to creating a positive and effective organizational structure. Authoritarian approaches may be effective in the short term, but they do not promote a healthy work environment. On the other hand, transformational leadership can lead to more engaged and empowered team members, which ultimately leads to better results.

  1. Freeman, J. (1972). The Tyranny of Structurelessness. Berkeley Journal of Sociology 17, 151-164. ↩︎