A few years ago I posted about the idea of ‘power and authority’, shortly after Donald Trump became president:
That was an unfortunate time in world history, one which many people are trying to forget. There was plenty of conversations about the idea of holding power, having power, taking power, and also having authority. There were expressions of power being quoted from his past, all of which looked horrible, and there were countless reminders of his lack of moral or ethical character up to the point of the election. And then there were stories that surfaced after his taking office, with the recurring theme of one who had some power, and people who had unfortunately now given him authority to exercise it.
If you have not been following the January 6th, 2021, insurrection hearings, you might want to at least skim over some of the testimonies. Why? Because it brings to light something missing in the conversation of authority and power: Responsibility.
(If you would like to have a glimpse at some of the hearings going on regarding the US insurrection, here you go: https://youtu.be/bC3_VFFJlSY)
Whenever I discuss leadership and service in my work, I talk about the balance of AUTHORITY and RESPONSIBILITY. It brings clarity to muddy situations on decision making and defining roles on a team and conflict scenarios. We all want the best of one another, and for one another, so that tends to soften our conversations during the ‘good times’ of leading and work together. Issues can start to stockpile and go unresolved until we hit crisis. Then the lack of boundaries and undefined roles become the issue. Churches are filled with this largely because the majority of decision making and execution is done so by volunteers; people who are serving out of their given time. But it happens everywhere.
So what separates this discussion from the one on POWER and AUTHORITY?
- POWER – The actual force and you hold, to be moved at will.
- AUTHORITY – The position permitted to direct power and decision making.
- RESPONSIBILITY – The execution of decisions and their outcomes.
In very simple terms, all three should be balanced nicely together to make sure the right thing is being done, at the right time, with no harm to anyone.
In the case of the US Senate hearings on the January 6th insurrection you could say that RESPONSIBILITY is being assigned by those given AUTHORITY to oversee the distribution of POWER.
In your church, your leadership team, or your work group, you will find all 3 of these things are at play at all times. They just need to be identified, named, and placed in their correct space. For example…
AUTHORITY without RESPONSIBILITY removes POWER from those at the crux of whatever needs to happen, and will give the sense of powerlessness. It will also give the impression of bureaucracy, where those in the ‘trenches’ have no power, and no say in matters.
Those with full AUTHORITY and RESPONSIBILITY can be scary in a consensus scenario, because it would appear they hold all the POWER, and everyone else stays out of the way. But, it can also create a very lonely environment, because they could feel powerless in no one walking with them.
Someone who holds POWER, whether by means of reputation, held values, or some other means of influence, but has no AUTHORITY or RESPONSIBILITY given by the group, can subvert the order and make all given roles and conversations irrelevant. That could be with a glance, money and resources shifted, a quiet conversation at the coffee shop, etc.
Take a look at how you view AUTHORITY and RESPONSIBILITY today. Do you understand where lines are drawn? Do you understand how your role fits with the others? What conversations need to happen in order for these things to flow together well?