What is Authority For?

  • To enable improvement

  • To give people a chance

  • To stand behind them

  • To take responsibility

  • To allow people to learn

  • To allow people to try

  • To allow people to fail

  • To allow people to build

  • To allow people to take risks

Authority should be used to ensure a positive, change seeking, respectful culture is developed.

Too often though, authority is misused…mainly because it’s misunderstood.

  • To standardize (for efficiency)

  • To limit change (for efficiency)

  • To create fear (of people losing their job, or lowering their status)

  • To veto decisions

  • To enforce rules

  • To make things cheaper

  • To be correct

  • To be the one that gets to choose

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Choose wisely.

Leader Goals

Almost everyone sets goals at the beginning of the year…it’s what we’re conditioned to do. And it’s not a bad thing. Goals are good...they give us measurable targets which support our purpose.

Management goals are the most popular with key targets including profitability, employee turnover, sales volume and the like. Personal goals revolving around health, weight loss, spending more time with kids and life balance often make the list. 

But what about leaders? Leaders have a different responsibility…they’re accountable for leading others to make change. Specifically, leaders…

Seek change...because they are unsatisfied with the status quo. They envision a better future and are bold enough to take responsibility and leap.

Teach...because creating a culture and a future other people want and then leading them there is more effective and long-lasting than commanding an outcome. Teach vs. Tell.

Learn...because it’s the prerequisite to teaching and making change. Learning indicates forward motion and a desire to make positive change happen. But when combined with empathy and openness to new ideas, it’s the most important choice we can make. Nothing would change if no one learned.

The appropriate leadership goals then begin with these questions…answer wisely, be specific and be accountable.

  1. What will you learn?

  1. What will you teach?

  1. What change will you make?

Experience and Leadership

Experience is required to create meaningful change.  It’s what gives us insight and relatively predictable outcomes. And it’s really helpful with the experimentation necessary to build anything new.  It’s also essential in the development of new leaders…the next generation of change makers. Without the valuable insight of an experienced leader, people are left solely to trial and error. And it really slows things down both for the work they produce and in their own development.

Experience then is best used to serve others…to lead, teach, guide, inspire and to help them get things done. It’s a shame it’s so often misused as a self-serving status tool…simply to tell someone what to do. 

It’s best to use experience to teach…and to be a hero for others. That’s the legacy we deserve.

Leading Change

is what Leadership is for. Everything else falls into a different category, management, productivity, efficiency, busywork, etc.

So if you’re goal is to be a leader, the big questions are…

  • What change are you seeking to make?

  • Who can you enroll to help make it?

  • What story can you tell to inspire them to come along?

  • When will you start?

  • What will happen if it doesn’t work?


People confuse leadership with authority. They say they want to get a promotion so they can lead. But what they really want is authority...to be able to tell someone what to do. They want control…to be the boss. They want this for status and to earn more money. And almost all organizations are set up this way…people in charge, managing other people to produce outcomes more efficiently. The better you fit into the system, the more successful you become and in turn you receive more authority. And the cycle continues. But this has nothing at all to do with leadership. Leadership isn’t reserved for people with direct control over another. It has nothing to do with giving instructions. Leadership requires vision for change, the ability to enroll people in a cause and the desire to take responsibility when something doesn’t work out as planned. It means you’re on the hook. Authority comes with a system, a structure that’s on the hook. There are always systems and other people to blame when it doesn’t work.

I haven’t met many people who want more people telling them what to do and exactly how to do it. Alternatively, I meet a lot of people who want to go somewhere exciting, create a legacy and be a part of something bigger than themselves. Seems logical then that we need more leadership and less authority. So who to promote…choose wisely.

The Art of Selection

The hardest part about selecting someone to join your team is dealing with the non-selection. It’s easy to celebrate with the victor…the one that made it. The hard work is teaching the others…explaining why they didn’t make the cut. And more importantly how they can prepare...what specifically they can do to change the outcome next time.  

Authority includes the power to choose. Because in the end, the leader is accountable when it doesn’t work. But authority also comes with the duty to teach and to help people achieve their dreams. This requires a specific vision, enrollment by everyone in that vision and empathy for those that can’t achieve it. Because if there’s a chance someone can get there next time…great leaders ensure they do.

What is Experience For?

The first time you drive a car it’s quite nerve racking. After a few years of experience that fear goes away…until something unpredictable happens. Now it’s new…experience is minimized…what to do next? After twenty years, after dealing with a lot of unexpected situations, there’s far less fear when something out of the ordinary occurs. Now we have experience handling the unpredictable and solving problems in an instant. We’re more comfortable with the discomfort.

Experience is mission critical when life safety is at stake. Heart surgeons and airline pilots spend years training to handle the unexpected. They earn a premium for their ability to calmly handle things when they don’t go as planned. That’s why there are Chief Surgeons and Captains…they have the most experience and we need them around in the most uncomfortable situations to lead us through. Passengers aren't worried about how much the airline captain earns when the landing gear doesn’t deploy properly.

But experience also counts in other work. No matter how much the band has practiced, the tension is quite high before the first concert. Because unlike practice, the stakes change once someone is counting on you..expecting a certain outcome. The same band, playing the same music, is much more at ease after the fiftieth concert. At this point, they’ve felt the fear of the first notes, and the pressure of expectation so often, they can dance with it because they know it’s coming. They know that an amp is going to fail at some point and what that feels like. They know people are going to respond differently, maybe even a boo or two…and they know what that feels like. And they know what it feels like to get to the other side…to lead through the choppy water. 

Experience allows us to become comfortable with uncertainty and give comfort to others by demonstrating that we know what we are doing…especially when the wheels fall off.

Experience creates comfort…and makes room for improv and art.

Top of the Org Chart

is reserved for people who…

  • teach
  • take responsibility
  • give credit
  • create enrollment (to do something which might not work)
  • help others solve problems
  • establish and lead cultural change 

Turns out you can do all of this without being on the top. At this juncture it’s a choice. But once other people count on you...it’s a duty. Please don’t let them down.

The Stalemate of the Suggestion Box

Top Management

We would love to hear your ideas…bring ‘em on.

Middle Management

We don’t like new ideas because we already have too much work to do…and their isn’t anything in it for us.


Why bother, nothing ever happens anyway.

The only way to solve this is to gain enrollment in the purpose of the idea by everyone involved. Everyone needs to have skin in the game (share in the risk if it doesn’t work) and be rewarded when it comes to fruition. This requires leadership by someone to create a meaningful vision (to create the enrollment) and to gain participation by everyone to do the required heavy lifting. 

Leadership isn’t reserved for those with titles…and either are the most effective ideas.

The World is a Stage

Every interaction is a performance. People watch, listen, anticipate, expect, and respond to how you act. If you’re in the business of leading change, making a difference and creating a remarkable legacy, every performance might be the most important one you ever give. Choosing to act this way takes tremendous dedication, courage and effort. It’s both physically and mentally exhausting. And it requires lot’s of learning and practice. Of course, the audience doesn’t always respond the way you’d like them to. But sometimes they’re in synch and actually become part of the show. The energy of their engagement helps move the performance to an even higher level. And that’s when the magic happens…the unexpected delight of the show of a lifetime.

Every audience deserves the best you. Otherwise, what’s the point of showing up on stage.

Most Postmen Don't Ring Twice...

Most don’t ring at all. But ours does. Tom takes the time to notice if something looks too important to leave in the box and rings the doorbell to get it safely into our hands. He takes the time to notice when a piece of mail is mixed in with another address and makes a special trip back to our house to be sure it arrives at its intended destination. And Tom always does it with a smile, please and thank you. 

Postmen don’t need to go out of their way, do the unexpected or cause delight because it’s not expected. It’s not part of make-up of what the postal service is for. The postal service isn’t designed to lead change or make people happy. Its designed to deliver paper as efficiently and cost effectively as possible. This applies to most monopolistic business like utilities, waste removal, coal mines and the like. The people in those organizations are protected by the customers' lack of choice. Consequently, virtually no care is taken to make hospitality, quality or improvement (for the benefit of the customer) any sort of priority. And the real shame is this sort of transaction centric mentality creeps into non-monopolistic organizations as well…cable TV, telephone, grocers, hotels, theaters, etc. It’s particularly well engrained into publicly owned companies where quarterly earnings reports dominate the culture. 

Fortunately, there are the crazy ones, the outliers, the ones that understand that happiness and change are important, that leaving a legacy is what work is for. Thankfully there are people like Tom.

Work is for two things…leading change and causing delight. It’s this adventure and pioneering spirit to make the world a better place that makes life worthwhile. Otherwise, what’s the point.

Earning More...the Value of Leadership

You can earn more by doing more and faster while meeting spec. The industrial era created value through higher productivity. The fallacy of this approach for the worker is it will only lead them so far…until someone else or some other more productive method replaces them. The other option for higher pay is based on risk and being accountable when things don’t go well…leadership.

Taking responsibility deserves a premium. The pressure of leading change and being accountable requires special skills, no matter if it’s for a team of three or four thousand. The value of the outcome and the risk associated with the journey should be the basis of the payment, not the authority to tell others what to do. 

A Leader's Job Description

  1. Create a culture of remarkable work…in the organization, in the department or the team. Treat each product, craft or service as an opportunity to create a legacy.
  2. Protect the group’s core values (the culture) by choosing team members wisely.
  3. Lead the charge of solving interesting problems as they arise and teach others to do the same.

Some Thoughts on Leadership

Leadership- to create a culture of causing delight and change (improvement)

Why Lead?- What would be missed if you were gone? What do you hope to change? Who will you enroll to go with you? What is your legacy?


  • Take responsibility- This might not work
  • Establish a hospitality and change oriented culture
  • Are highly intuitive. They notice things (that need to be changed). And can see an outcome which will cause delight.
  • Care enough to leap...to try something that might not work.
  • Recognize they can’t do it alone.

Leaders are people who inspire and enroll others on their journey. They are...

  • Artists- Not all artists are great leaders. But all leaders are artists. They are emotionally engaged in their work...beyond the transaction.
  • Craftsmen- they create something (from nothing) and take responsibility for things that might not work.
  • Improvisors- they seek the discomfort of handling the unexpected and enjoy the exchanges along an unknown path.
  • Innkeepers- they are in the hospitality business...causing delight through pleasant surprises and serving others in a meaningful way.

Leadership Attitude

It’s simple in concept...
  • Surround yourself with high levels of aptitude
  • Generously give others the credit
  • Take responsibility…put yourself out there to be ultimately accountable.
I’ve never met a great leader who didn’t embody these qualities. And more importantly, I’ve never met anyone who acts this way that isn’t a great leader…no matter their title.
Really hard to execute…but it starts with a mindset, a world view that this attitude is what it takes to lead and to make change.