Leadership versus Authority

In an earlier post I referenced Peter Senge’s definition of leadership (in short, a capacity to shape the future). The capacity is fundamentally a group one, although obviously individuals would need to develop capacities as well. And in addition to individual and group capacities, leadership is also bound in the actual positions of authority.

But most people tend to think ONLY of authority when they discuss leadership. Leadership training is often about preparing people for being in positions of authority—supervisors, managers, CEOs. Think about it: we single out a small number of authority positions and then we invest heavily in developing the capacities of the individuals who occupy those positions. This is an incomplete view of leadership development, because authority and leadership are NOT the same thing.

In fact, Senge argued that we tend to greatly overestimate the power that people in leadership positions (authority) actually have. It’s amusing, but he noted that they mostly have the power to screw things up. Leaders can quite easily and instantly do things that cause horrible problems, but to do good—that takes a long time and a lot of help from others in the system.

He looks at two types of leadership positions in organizations: executive, and “local line” leadership. Ninety percent of any long term change in organizations MUST start at the local line management level. The executive’s role is later on, in synthesizing and communicating. How about this quote:

It’s crazy to think that executives create strategy.


  1. 25.04.2007 at 1:53 pm

    Having power doesn’t mean to know how to use it properly… It’s a matter of managerial training of those who have the attitude.