Authority vs. Empowerment: 5 Things Leaders May Learn From Parenthood

My son's hand

My son's hand

I just became father of a son a week ago and it's the best thing that has ever happened to me. There are no words describing the feeling when holding your newborn the first time. Everyone around you is warmly amazed and everything you may have struggled with before has become less stressful. Right now, I am looking in his eyes and I ask myself how may I give him back what he gives me: joy and love. I ask myself: How may I become the best father possible? 

1 There is no perfect father or leader

There is no guide for being a good father that works for every child as there is no guide for being a good leader that works for every follower, no recommendations for these difficult situations where I may ask myself shall I be strict or liberal, shall I use my authority or empower my son to do what he wants? In one of my recent leadership classes, one practitioner confronted me with the same question when shall he use his authority and when shall he empower his followers. The question created a great discussion where best-practices were exchanged and funny as well as sad stories were told. Holding my newborn I remembered that there might be some use for leaders to compare their situation with parenting, at least it struck me to think about if there is something that leaders may learn from parenting something that it so innate in ourselves, the things we do without having learned it. We experienced parenting as children and bringing back these memories in a leader-follower situation may of course bear great potential to increase commitment and loyalty of our followers.

2 Authority is nothing you can "gain"

When I heard the first scream of my son and I looked at my wife, this moment is unforgettable. It was also the moment when I received from an unseen power the authority over my child. By many leaders out there, authority is often misunderstood as a skill that one may acquire while it's not. Authority is definitely nothing that you can "gain". Leaders may even perceive authority as a competence that may be used or applied in an effective manner. Indeed, authority is externally given by the same authority you are going to represent. Regarding parenting, you receive authority over your child, the moment it is born. In other words, authority is always there, you may only represent it or act in it's name. It is an abstract construct which has to be represented just like any other abstract construct. Just as thinking is an abstract construct that needs representation by those who think, just as love is an abstract concept that needs representation by those who love. 

3 Strong leaders use less authority than the average

Being a proud father means being proud of how beautiful your son looks, of how well he may be able to learn or how strong your wife has been giving birth to him. If you are just proud of your authority as a leader or as a father, your are possibly mistaken. It may reflect your status but what is worth your status if you are not able to fill the expectations of being a good leader or father. So, how shall I best use my given authority? Actually using your authority the right way, means not using it at all. Indeed, authority is just a necessary waste of structure. Good leaders understand that with more authority less of it should be used. Strong leaders are able to use less authority than the average and, therefore, perform better having more committed followers. Some time ago Kant wrote that enlightenment can only be achieved by obeying the authority. Today Kant's idea of enlightenment is not as plausible anymore as before. Ideally those having authority themselves understand that their authority may hinder any progress but empowerment may be the key to increase their follower's and the organization's overall performance. 

4 Empowerment is the key for good leadership & parenthood

Thinking about educating my son, it's difficult to decide when he should make mistakes by himself. Shall he learn from his actions or is it more wise to forbid the action beforehand. Of course, if I forbid him to do something means losing the opportunity that he may learn it by himself. Using my authority in this case may crowd-out the possibility to empower him. In my class one practitoner argued that he uses his authority to empower others. I tried to explain to him that this is quite impossible. Empowerment is actually the opposite to authority, it means freeing your followers of authority and letting them decide what and how to fulfil their task. Now, I would be called a bad father if I would allow and engage my son to do everything he wants. Authority is definitely necessary but again needs to be applied with caution. Good leaders (and parents) try to avoid authority as much as possible and try to empower their followers. Empowerment refers to provide the other with the capabilities and competence to achieve the set goals. It also means to demand engagement and responsibility from your followers. Empowering your followers is one of your central tasks as a leader.

5 Most importantly: Care about your followers

Looking at my son, I understood the importance of life and humanity. It went through myself that I may be fulfilled from now on with more joy and happiness due to my strong bond with my newborn boy. Taking care of your followers and caring for your followers, may be something that bears the biggest potential. Think about the emotions they give to you working for you every day and try to give these emotions back. Do you feel honored, fulfilled, happy? Make them also feel that way! Caring is possibly one of the backbones of being a good leader. If you understand their needs just by looking at their face, know their habits and attitude, and  appreciate their character you may make a good a leader as well as a good father or mother. Bottom-line, what makes a good leader? You may have to be emotional, truthful, a good listener, authentic, eloquent, knowledgable, motivating, skillful, competent, and maybe parental.