Mindful Leaders Understand Authority

Mindful Leaders understand Authority. We all, regardless of our roles, have people who are in authority over us; those we report to. Even when I was running 40 countries or leading a listed company, I had boards, their Chairs, Owners and shareholders to report to.  

If we don’t manage these relationships well, we end up with misaligned priorities, and misunderstood agendas. It results in low, or no trust, relationships can begin to polarise and productivity shuts down. 

When I say ‘manage’ those in authority, I really mean being cognisant of who they are, what they want and how they operate. It’s about being mindful rather than manipulative. When this is done well it results is clear alignment, and a growth in trust. You as the leader are then often given more empowerment, greater space, more allocation of resources and become highly valued. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, but I have found it to be true for the vast majority of organisations and those who own and govern them. 

Those in authority over us are just like us. They have needs wants and desires. They have certain characteristics, personalities and ways of doing things. But what do they want? By that I mean what do they really want? It may be different to what they're asking for. An ability to respectfully question, and to challenge in a way that maintains relationship, is more of an art than a science. There's no point in questioning something if you're not interested in finding the answer. Steve Nowicki, has a great way of looking at this, he said, “We're right to question authority when we think that authority is unfounded, unjust, or otherwise just screwed up somehow. But if we ask the question, we need to be willing to help find the answer, understanding that the answer might be complicated, that it might be difficult, or that the answer might be different from what we initially think it is.” 

Our heart and motivation in this should be to serve rather than manipulate for our own purposes. A genuine desire for a better outcome for all stakeholders is a great view to have. From my perspective it is the only one that truly creates a sustainable enterprise. We ‘all got to serve somebody’ as Bod Dylan quite rightly observed. 

As you may be aware, I used to be a CEO and Managing Director of a number of different organisations, most of those reported to a board. In particular usually an owner or Chairperson. Now that I am an Independent Director and Chair of a couple of organisations, the shoe is well and truly on the other foot. I now have first-hand experience of being on both sides of the table. If I knew then what I know now, I may well have been even more open and transparent with those in authority over me, then I was. It was a bit of a learning curve for me to not run ahead of a Board, and to make sure that there were no surprises. I’ve learned that it's more important to take the time, have the debate, get the agreement, be aligned and then make the changes that need to be made. Sometimes relationship is paramount over progress. 

Ultimately as a leader we have to challenge the status quo, sometimes that comes in the guise of those in authority over us, but we would do well to be mindful of and respect those to whom we report. Managing up is a much more sustainable model.  

I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Oscar Wilde who with great insight, very wisely said, “Wherever there is a man who exercises authority, there is a man who resists authority.” So, let's be as mindful of those in authority over us, as we are to those who report to us. I think we could all do with a touch more grace and patience.  



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