Wasted Authority is Poor Leadership

This is a guest post by Bruce Rhoades. Bruce is a personal friend and mentor. Having run numerous organizations, he is now retired. He reluctantly leaves his sail boat on occasion to help me with strategy, pricing, technology and product development issues. He also just joined Twitter. Follow him here.

Poor Leaders

All of us have experienced a leader who is controlling, arbitrary and makes decisions with little input from anyone while remaining un-influenceable.  Likewise, we have experienced a leader who does not delegate and demands that he or she make all the decisions while relegating dutiful implementation to subordinates.  These leaders mostly use positional authority to “run” the organization.  This type of leadership and management does not grow people, limits the potential of the organization and creates a stifling atmosphere with little collaboration.  Not good.



Wasted Authority

At the other end of the spectrum is wasted authority, a management trait that results in weak leadership that is also damaging to the organization.  What is wasted authority?  We have all probably seen examples of managers who exhibit this trait:

  • Delaying decisions and overanalyzing.  In a meeting, all the options for a decision are clear and a decision is needed.  But the manager asks for more analysis, delaying the decision for the whole organization.
  • Delaying decisions to hope for consensus.  Likewise, there is the meeting where options are clear, but there is disagreement among the subordinates in the meeting.  No more data is really needed and it is clear that the “boss” needs to decide.  Instead, the discussion goes on and on until the meetings adjourned with no decision.  The boss is waiting for a consensus to emerge…
  • Inexcusable behavior.  An associate has behaved in a manner that is inconsistent with the company expectations. It is ignored by the leader, repeatedly, with the excuse that, “That is just Jim.”
  • Wandering agendas.  The discussion in a group is wandering way off-topic.  The leader allows the discussion to ramble into many issues that are irrelevant to the real topic.  Before long, people are disagreeing on things that were not even supposed to be on the agenda.
  • The silent elephant.  Then there is the meeting where everyone knows about “the elephant in the room” – a huge issue that no one wants to discuss outright but everyone knows about. The meeting goes on as if nothing is wrong.
  • Poor customer response.  The organization’s response to a customer problem was poor, and the customer was ill-treated. The leader clearly knows about the situation but is too busy to look into the details. The customer complains no more so the issue is forgotten.
  • No recognition.  A particular associate has performed well above his or her norm and has done an exceptional job for a situation, but the manager says or does nothing, no “great job”, no recognition – just a “thanks” and moves on the next meeting.
  • Performance Ambush.  An associate made a mistake. The leader does nothing but a year later brings it up in a performance review with the associate.
  • Too many details.  Finally, the leader discusses a situation in excruciating detail, allowing the whole team to get mired in details, losing sight of the real issue. The whole team consumes great amounts of time needlessly.

I am sure that most of us will be able to add to this list of situations where authority was wasted and leadership lost.



Wasted authority usually takes one of the following forms:

  • Indecisiveness when it is clear that a decision should be made
  • Failure to take action when cultural expectations are violated or associates misbehave
  • Failure to address large, well-known issues openly and directly
  • Inability to provide timely feedback to teach individuals and the organization
  • Ignoring customer issues that the organization simply takes for granted
  • Failure to frame an issue, articulate priorities and delegate to others



Wasted authority by the leader has many damaging effects on an organization:


Failure to decide

Failure to decide and requesting more analysis when none is needed is a huge waste of the organization’s time and energy as well as undermining any sense of urgency or bias for action for the organization.  People are not only required to spend time getting more analysis but they also continue to waste time discussing the issue outside the meeting. Failure to decide does not build consensus.  Over time, the organization will become a collection of silos each defending its own perspective.


Failure to take action

Failure to take action when cultural expectations are violated simply sends the opposite message. The organization quickly learns that what is said is one thing, but what is done is quite another. The integrity of the culture is undermined. People watch what you do even more than what you say.


Failure to address the issues

Failure to address large, well-known “elephants in the room” not only demonstrates weakness in the leader but quickly establishes the opposite of an open and direct communications culture. It also undermines a bias for action in the organization.


Failure to give feedback

The inability to provide timely feedback to associates (both positive and negative) leaves real learning experiences untapped and establishes a culture that does not value individuals nor provide growth for them.


Failure to address customer issues

Ignoring poor customer problem resolution in the organization quickly establishes a culture of mediocracy in customer service and will result in a poor reputation in the market. It does not take many occurrences to set a pattern for the organization.


Failure to prioritize and delegate

Failure to frame issues, articulate priorities and delegate to others has several damaging effects. It does not teach subordinates to look at the larger issue, so the organization sub-optimizes its talent and begins to treat symptoms rather than causes. Failure to delegate, while wallowing in the details, does not grow people, does not set a tone of accountability for others and wastes talent and time. Additionally, poor delegation allows the real capacity for performance in the organization to go untapped.


The bottom line is that wasted authority and failure to act is just as damaging as the opposite type of leader.  Culture and expectations are established via actions of the leader. Wasting authority results in weak organizations.

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