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Have you ever observed two individuals of equal position, rank, and authority in an organization? One seems to accomplish everything successfully and with ease, while the other seems to always be "under the gun," having a crisis and a difficult time. You are viewing the difference between a true, high impact leader and a person who perhaps has a leadership title. The true, high impact leaders in any organization are easy to recognize. They’re the ones who always seem to accomplish more than the masses and with apparent ease. The key is the leader’s ability to get others to accomplish more than they ever thought they could.

In the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it." An ineffective leader is one who makes a simple task look difficult. This phenomenon occurs at all levels in an organization. 

To understand what is happening in the previous examples, we need to examine two terms, authority and power, and use these two concepts to develop a more effective leadership style.

The terms authority and power have been used interchangeably over the years. An arbitrary but clear distinction between the two will increase your insight and provide you with information that will help you to develop your ability as a leader. 

Power may be defined as the ability or capacity to act in ways which influence the behavior of others. It is a personal talent which can be developed. It is part of the potential we all possess. It is yours to discover and use to reach worthwhile goals. In Eisenhower’s definition of leadership, he was describing a person who developed this quality. It is simply the ability to get others to do things. It has little or nothing to do with title, rank, or authority. 

Authority may be defined as a contractual right granted to us by an organization for the position we hold. It is the right to settle disputes, to control operations, to make and implement decisions, and to administer or manage. It is entirely possible to possess a great deal of power, while not possessing any authority. Conversely, it is also possible to have authority, but not power. 

Power is a measure of the personal effectiveness you develop in the everyday use of authority. Power is granted to you by those over whom you have influence. You earn power. Power places few limits on your available lines of action and implies a flexibility of behavior suitable to a variety of situations. Authority, on the other hand, defines limits and actions which you have the contractual right to take or to use. It is granted to you by the organization as part of the attempt to control and manage. An individual who abuses authority, diminishes his or her personal power and, ultimately, the ability to influence and lead others. Power comes from a climate of trust and mutual respect. 

Thanks to Jerry Houston, Founder and CEO of HPISolutions, for his unique perspective on this topic.

See a related blog post on our website here.