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Do You Want Authority or Responsibility?

Have you ever run across a young person speaking excitedly about joining the workforce, and then realized that all he or she really wants to do is be in charge? “I’m good at telling people the right thing to do,” we recently heard one say.

Who needs that sort of help?

Think for a minute about every petty manager you have encountered at work, or while watching TV or a movie. They are always 100% focused on the perks of the job—a company car, nice office, big desk, maybe an assistant—but completely clueless when it comes to delivering results.

In short, they want the benefits of “power” but not the obligations. This is like saying, “Pay me, but don’t actually expect me to do anything.”

That’s why it’s worth mentioning the difference between authority and responsibility.

Responsibility means saying, “I’ll deliver results, no matter what.” Or you might say, “Pay me for results.” The reward follows work done well.

Authority usually means that someone else has given you power. You get to hire 20 staff members because the CEO told you to do so. You get a bigger office because the owner decided that he needs to keep you happy, especially after so-and-so quit.

Some people argue that it’s not fair to give employees responsibility without also giving them some authority, and there is a bit of truth to that. You need a certain amount of authority to get people to listen to you and/or to have them take you seriously. It’s also true that customers like to know they are dealing with someone authorized to make things happen.

But here’s what really matters: which motivates you more?

The very best leaders are motivated by responsibility. The same goes for the best professional athletes; they want the season’s outcome to ride on their shoulders. Even more importantly, they know that no one else can designate them as the greatest; they have to earn such praise.

If you are looking to advance in your company, focus your efforts on accepting greater responsibilities and recognize that more authority will likely come later, rather than before you step up.

If you want to hire employees who will make your business proud, look for people willing to stand up and be responsible… and hesitate before hiring those who seem overly focused on compensation, perks, and other trappings of “power”.

Results matter, so act like they matter.