I was sitting with a staff member recently who presented me an idea. I had reservations about the idea instantly. It was actually a “red flag” idea and I knew it. I love ideas, however, and I’m consistently encouraging our staff to dream, take risks, and improve upon what we are doing. So I listened intently and we discussed the pros and cons of the idea. The next day this staff member came back to tell me and he had thought about our discussion, had changed his mind and was going a different direction. I was thrilled with “his” decision.
This story illustrates an important leadership principle difference between positional versus relational authority. The wise leader knows the difference is huge.
In that instance I used relational authority. I had the ability because of my position to squelch the idea instantly. I could have stopped his plan. I could have killed a dream. In doing so, however, I would have also risked injuring a relationship and stalling someone’s personal growth. He may never have brought me another idea. He may have quit trying. He may have even decided I no longer supported him. Coming to the decision on his own gave him confidence in the direction he was going and allowed him to see me as a mentor not a detractor of his leadership.
Many times I could demand something because of my position, but most times the issue is better resolved if I encourage something because of my relationship. In my experience, there are times for both types of authority to be used, but the majority of the time relational authority works better in creating healthy organizations, healthy teams, and healthy team members. The wise leader learns which is best at the time.
Do you see the difference? Which are you providing most to your organization: Positional or Relational Authority? Which are you receiving?