Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Authority and Respect

I mentioned in my last post that postmoderns and rednecks both have some issues with authority. While that's still fresh I decided put out some of the things I've learned over the years in this area.

To me, authority and respect are two sides of the same coin. If people respect you, you will have a lot of authority with them. If they don't respect you, you'll have the bare minimum they can get away with giving you. There are also two kinds of respect/authority: positional and relational. Positional respect goes with some kind of position--teacher, boss, doctor, pastor, cop, etc. Its big drawback is that it is only temporary--maybe a life of 2 weeks to 2 months in most cases, as little as 5 minutes in a few. Its main value is to give the authority figure time to develop relational respect, which is the respect you earn. But once earned, it lasts much longer, maybe even for life. (Unless, of course, you manage to blow it badly.) The more of it you earn over time, the more authority you have. Even rednecks generally know which of the cops in their small town is firm but fair, and who is the jerk who likes to throw his weight around.

During my senior year of college and for a couple of years after I worked for a franchise organization in two different cities, for two different managers. The first never asked anyone else to work as hard as he did, genuinely cared about his employees and customers, built good relationships with both as much as he could. He had tremendous authority with his people, because he had earned it. The second was a former Air Force captain--not a pilot or combat officer, he finished college with a metallurgy degree and spent his military service in a laboratory. His military background turned out to be a liability--he did not have a clue how to deal with employees who could legally quit--and did they ever quit!! It was a constant struggle just to maintain a minimal staff level, let alone any growth. Finally I quit too, largely because my future with the organization depended on his success, and he wasn't going anywhere until he learned to earn respect. Even our best employees had little respect for him and many of our customers had less. It took me a couple of years to process that experience and really understand what was wrong.

Couple of other lessons I've learned on this: The people who have earned the most authority generally wear it very lightly--they'll rely on other methods most of the time, rather than using raw authority. The people who are most enamoured with their authority and position usually have the least. Also, authority is like a bar of soap--the more you use it, the less remains (can't remember where I read that, but I agree).

That's all for this one.

No comments: