Leadership Traits: Authority vs. Responsibility
Those who exercise quality leadership traits make the difference between someone you gladly follow and another to whom you must report.
- How do you feel when you have little decision-making authority, but all of the weight of responsibility for execution?
- Conversely, how do you feel when your boss shares responsibility for the outcome of your decisions?
What Makes a Great Leader?
One quality of a great leader is accepting responsibility, a valuable lesson I learned from Colonel Mike Pulliam.
Mike helped all of us realize that it was a privilege to lead, and demonstrated good leadership by setting the example, developing others, and supporting others along the way.
He established an environment where his senior leaders delegated as much as possible to junior leaders. We were given the authority to make decisions and empowered to act, and this enabled us to learn and grow.
As junior leaders on Mike’s team, we felt like valuable employees because we were trusted to make decisions. More significant, however, was his example and how he demonstrated that accepting responsibility was one of the key leadership traits.
Leadership in Action
On one occasion, a junior leader had made a poor decision that gained unwanted attention from Mike’s boss. The next thing we heard about the result of that poor decision was … absolutely nothing.
We wondered why nothing came of it, and it wasn’t until later that we learned Mike had taken the heat.
As our leader, he believed it was his responsibility to train his team and allow us room to make mistakes. He believed that if we could choose, we would do the right thing.
- How do you think his supportive actions made us feel?
We felt that we let down a man we deeply respected and his actions simply firmed our resolve to work harder.
Mike motivated and inspired, teaching us that accepting responsibility was one of the key leadership traits we needed to develop.
When we were asked to do anything above and beyond our job description, we agreed without hesitation.
- How do you say no to someone who teaches you and takes genuine interest in your personal growth?
Authority vs. Responsibility
Definition of Authority: “the power to enforce rules or give orders, a privilege given to an individual in a management or supervisory position.”
The key to whether a supervisor is perceived as a manager or a leader rests with how they exercise authority. While some believe that leadership is a natural talent, it can be learned.
Definition of Responsibility: “a duty or obligation where someone is held accountable.”
When managers hold themselves accountable for their actions as well as those of their team, they transform themselves from one who has the power to enforce rules and give orders to a leader who inspires and motivates others.
Good leaders delegate authority; they never delegate responsibility!
Tom Crea is a leadership expert, decorated career Army Officer, and Blackhawk Helicopter pilot. Because of his proven skills, he was hand selected to run the Army’s leadership development program at two Boston colleges, where he and his team transformed college students into combat leaders.
(Discover how to be a Guiding Light — 3-step process)
Today, he is a Servant Leadership ambassador: An author, keynote speaker, and leadership development coach. He is also a radio show host.
Tom has a B.S. & M.C.S. in Computer Science and a M.A. in Political Science and loves coaching basketball and spending time with his wife and two boys.
Creating a Culture:
Tom’s proudest leadership moment came when his unit was called to war in Iraq after he had rotated out. His replacement was not able to perform, so members he developed stepped up to lead; they attribute their success to the leadership Tom instilled in each of them. Today, the Blackhawk leadership way.