Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Separating Responsibility from Authority

This is a powerful idea but I expect it may be a little fuzzy for people wanting to put the idea into use. Many of us may have been exposed to this management tactic but may not have recognized it in these terms. A few of us have been lucky enough to have been trained this way right from the start.

My first boss, who hired me right out of college to develop and implement a cross-functional process for improving quality, used to say to me, “Craig, don’t wait around for authority to come to you. Go out and earn it.” We both understood the responsibility part of the equation, so it was not discussed. His comments were prompted by his observation that I was sometimes timid when my work carried me into an area overseen by a manager who reacted to my “intrusion” in a territorial manner. Basically he was telling me to work with the manager and the people in the area to convince them of the value of my work so they would support me.

Then, at other times, he would tell me things like, “Craig, you have the authority. Now get it done.” He was teaching me to accelerate my efforts as soon as it was clear I had gained social authority. He understood the connection between authority, trust, and speed. It took me a long time to understand all of these things but I began picking up the behaviors right away.

Later, as I moved up in rank, my boss taught me and coached me to become an effective coach for those who reported to me - I’ll leave that story for another post.

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