Two Kinds of Authority…

Winter break! Maybe I will find more time to write for a few weeks.

For now, I am returning to the question of authority, “What is authority?”

Two kinds of authority come to mind, “real” authority and “title” authority; Dave Ramsey calls it “positional power versus persuasive power.” The distinction between the two is a business school basic, one that most leaders intuitively understand: some people have authority because of their title; others have a different kind of authority one that is much harder to define. Positional power is easy to talk about, people slow down when they see a police car on the side of the road, they stop playing when the ref blows a whistle, and they quite down when the speaker steps up to the podium. The person in authority doesn’t need to spend time convincing people to follow, people follow based on their title and followers don’t need to know very much about the leader before they follow.

The second kind of authority is much harder to define.  It is hard to stand in a room and point to the person that has authority, sometimes even when they are using their authority. I am currently reading Reaching People Under 40 While Keeping People Over 60: Being Church for All Generations, the author tells a good story that illustrates the difference. When the author was first starting in ministry, his pastor asked him to move a Sunday school class to a new room because they needed the larger space for the growing number of babies in the nursery. He walked in and told the group to move. The result of his demand was months of heartache and pain. In addition, the group refused to move. After months of healing and rebuilding relationships, one of the members of the Sunday school class agreed with the need to move. She walked in the room, told them they were moving, and they moved. This leader had a “real” authority over the group. She cared about them and the group knew it. What she said mattered to them, and she knew it. They had a relationship that went deeper than a job title or positional authority.

Two types of authority, but I don’t think they are that distinguishable. Sometimes people may have either positional power or persuasive power, but usually, authority comes from a place of title and from a place that is much harder to define.   What do you think?

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