As we see our leaders’ responses to the pandemic, we are constantly appraising their performance. A virus, that tiniest of God’s creatures, exposes our leader’s strengths and weaknesses.
The book “The Servant: A Simple Story about the True Essence of Leadership” first published 22 years ago made a big difference to many in business. Its most profound impact on me was the distinction the author makes in it between power and authority. Power is dominion, the capacity to hire and fire, promote and demote, etc. Authority is the capacity to influence. It exists in a totally different realm of human relations. Alexander Solzhenitsyn had no power inside the USSR, but his authority was so great the powers-that-be had to exile lest he undo their power, which he eventually did.
A person with authority has great influence. Often those in power have little.
The author, James C. Hunter, poses the question: Did Mother Theresa have much authority? Did she have much power? Which parents have authority with their children? Is it the same as having power over them? Do they always have both power and authority? When do they begin to lose power? How do they lose authority?
Who has had the most influence on you in your life? Would it be true to say that person had the most authority of all the people in your life? Why did that person have so much authority with you?
Whence comes such authority? Hunter suggests (and it has held up for me) that the one who has served best has the greatest authority. The parent with authority (seen particularly after children have left home) is the one who has served the most. That is why most mothers have more authority (influence) with their grown children than most fathers.
Thus, the boss with authority is the boss who serves his people best. The better he serves, the more authority he gains.
Which leaders are growing in influence as they handle their response to COVID-19? Are they those who are serving best? Are they gaining in influence?
We are all called to servant leadership, or magnanimous humility . at different levels. Our most important leadership role is with our children and our spouses …that team we brought into existence, one with vows, the others in cooperation with The Creator. Our relationship with our spouse is interesting to study. For happiness, does power count? Or does authority?
Which brings us back to the tasks that virus has set in motion: Who is leading well in government? In journalism? In public health? In business? In the schools which serve your community?
It is an exercise worth doing – for our family’s sake.
For the good of our children, may we earn authority in their eyes.