When speaking to a group of friends, one of them made a comment that resonated with me …

Authority does not mean you are an authoritarian.”

Like you, I’ve been in many situations where people in leadership positions look for opportunities to wield their power. They never run away from an opportunity to tell or show others they are in charge.

The Incompetent Manager

Many years ago, I worked in a department where our manager was convinced that he needed to constantly show his power to gain control of others. In fact, he would threaten to “write us up!” if we failed to meet his expectations.

He was the type of manager who would wander around the office at 8:30 a.m. to ensure everyone was sitting at their desk tackling the daily duties. Of course, he also did the rounds at 5 p.m. to confirm we were still hard at work.

Besides using his position of power to micromanage, it appeared to most of us that he did very little productive work throughout the day. Instead, he was the type of manager who sought opportunities to try to catch people falling short of expectations.

Instead of helping his staff succeed, he looked for ways to satisfy his ego by making others look bad.

As you can imagine, many of us quickly found jobs in other departments, and some of us left the company altogether. This type of self-centered management approach will fail in most professional settings, especially when the employees are self-starters.

The Smart Leader

When managing a medical clinic in Houston, I reported directly to one of the lead doctors, who essentially assumed a business-type role. I appreciated my working relationship with this doctor because he knew his limitations and that success comes from relying on different employee strengths and experiences. After all, he studied medicine and not management.

Here are ways he approached me about work-related situations:

  • I was thinking we need to create an incentive program for our employees, but I’m unsure how to do this. I know, because of your business education and work experience, you will have some ideas. Will you please do some research on this topic and present your recommendations at the next doctor’s meeting?”
  • It seems like managed care is here to stay! For many years, we didn’t have to accept many of the PPOs and HMOs, but things are changing. We also have our good share of Medicare and Medicaid patients. I think it would help the rest of the doctors if you could create a report that shows our revenue from each of these categories. As part of this effort, please share your ideas on the direction we should take relative to revenue generation. I know you don’t have all the answers, but you can get us going in the right direction.”

This doctor was humble, and he understood how best to use his authority. In fact, he would often ask me to find leadership training opportunities so I could improve my skills. When I returned from these training sessions, he would find the time to visit with me so I could share how my new knowledge could benefit the clinic. 

An important message here is that influential managers and leaders know success is a team sport. It’s far better for them to empower their employees than to engage in actions just to make themselves feel superior to others.