An interesting discussion occurred at work today where I was forced to put into words some thoughts I’ve been kicking around for a while on the nature of leadership. None of my thoughts are original, mind you. This one was cribbed from a blog post about leading without authority. I’ll drop the link when I find it. The long and the short of that post was that leadership has only the loosest relationship with authority. In fact, it’s often a sign of dysfunctional leadership which depends on having someone give you authority.

In the world of power, authority is one of the most difficult types to wield, because it generally means someone has placed an expectation on you. You will be forced to live up to those expectations or be cut down from your place of authority quickly. Meanwhile, leadership is not actually a type of power, but a behavior. This alone should be mind-blowing if you’re actually following along at home.

You can lead without authority. You can lead with authority. You can actually lead without saying a thing. This is key tenant in modern stoicism, actually. Don’t tell, do. And so it is in leadership as well. Don’t tell people what to do, show them what is effective, and empathize with their plight.

One of the more disappointing interactions I had recently was when a co-worker expressed a lack of joy in his work. It struck a nerve with me, in that I had felt many of the same things. And our lead engineer, who tends to lead through authority rather than trust, kind, sort of, well … blew us off. I really didn’t see that coming, and it’s forced me to take a step back and realize that I need to do a better job of leading without authority. Of building trust amongst my co-workers so that when the need arises, I can step up.