Five Ways to Use Authority for the Benefit of Your Team

Gerry True serves as Minister of Communication Arts at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, where Max Lucado is the Minister of Preaching. He has also served as a Student Minister, Men’s Minister and Minister of Technology during the past 15 years. He regularly contributes ideas relating to leadership, family and faith on his blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @GerryTrue.If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

Holding a position of authority requires a keen understanding of how to use it effectively. Authority should be used for the good of the team. I worked for a Marriott hotel when I was nineteen-years-old. My job was to check every room service order before it was served to the guest and to help deliver the trays.


Photo courtesy of ©

My manager, Mark, was a former Marine who expected things to be done his way. And when they weren’t, we heard about it. The staff knew he was the one with the authority because we were frequently reminded when things weren’t going his way. It wasn’t uncommon to be cussed out or threatened with job loss. We were frequently reminded through clenched teeth “I’m the boss!”

Mark had authority, but no one viewed him as a leader. He didn’t have the respect of his team. I remember a lot about him managing but not a single thing about him leading. His energy was largely spent on condemning and correcting. Few people had it in them to give their best under his watchful eye because no one felt they could live up to his unreasonable expectations.

Mark would have gained far better results if he had used his authority for the benefit of the team. Pondering my experience with Mark has led me to consider five ways a solid leader uses authority the right way.

  1. Reach. A team leader understands they don’t possess all the answers. One person’s ideas are strengthened when mixed with ideas from several others on a team. The collective insights from a group of people usually result in a better solution. Authority should be used to reach out to the best minds and bring them together to find a solution. Authority that reaches out empowers a team because people and their ideas are valued.
  2. Recognize. A team leader puts authority to good use when people are recognized for their contributions. Raising awareness of what others are doing reminds every team member they are an important part of bringing success. Achieving goals won’t come with heavy-handed decision-making. Success comes from giving private and public praise through a personal word of thanks. This use of authority goes a long way to encouraging a passion for excellence.
  3. Respirate. Every team leader will face a crisis moment when those they lead are out of breath and losing energy. When the goal seems to be fading, authority must be used to breathe life into the team. Criticism and fault finding must be put aside. This is not the time to place blame or point out failures. A leader should use authority to revive a team’s spirit by inspiring them with a vision of the future that renews hope.
  4. Ricochet. The praise spotlight inevitably lands on the team leader at some point. Like a symphony playing a beautiful melody, everyone enjoys praise for a job well done. It is in those moments that a leader most needs to acknowledge the contributions of the team. The response of the leader should be, “Thank you for the encouragement, but the credit really goes to an amazing team who gave their best!” A solid leader allows the praise to ricochet so that it encourages the heart of the team.
  5. Reproduce. A reproducing leader uses authority as an opportunity to help others gain insight and abilities. Recently a team member shared some advice with me that he was given by a former boss. Her advice went something like this, “Never let anyone working for you know more than you know. Always keep them just one step behind where you are so you will always be needed.” This abuse of authority is based in fear and undermines and limits the success of a team. An effective leader has no hesitancy or concerns that a team member’s skill or knowledge may surpass their own. Instead, they use authority proactively by helping and encouraging others to advance in knowledge and skill.

I’m not proud of what we did to Mark, and I am sure it came as a surprise to him. It was a Saturday morning at the Marriott. The Marriott pledge included a free meal if room service was late with breakfast. We were rarely late, and on that morning everything was running on schedule.

We were setting up breakfast trays when Mark blew through the kitchen door in a foul mood. His words flew fast and furious. The two of us who were working that morning decided we’d heard enough trash talking. We shifted into slow gear, and shortly before 8:00 a.m., we exited the kitchen, punched out, and left to look for a new place to work. I’ve always wondered how many breakfast trays Mark delivered that morning. I am sure many breakfasts were free. I’ve learned a lot since those days, and maybe by now Mark realizes too that demanding authority demoralizes.

He helped me see that authority can be used for the benefit of everyone on the team when a leader knows how to use it the right way.

How have you seen authority used to benefit of a team? Have you seen it used to the detriment of the team?
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  • Paul Gardner

    Oh so true…

    But often hard to put into place as a leader. I especially find this if employees start to expect encouragement and rewards (initially given for good performance) as a right, even if there performance drops below an acceptable level!

  • @gerrytrue

    I agree Paul. It is challenging to put this into practice as a leader. You are right, there are times when an employee begins to expect encouragement or a reward even thought all they did was the job they were hired to do. Inevitably, that employee will be disappointed because they will never be noticed enough. Their accomplishments become more about getting noticed than about helping the team.

    Honestly, I probably go overboard on encouragement and expressing appreciation but I would rather error on the side of modeling gratefulness. I am choosing to deal personally with the one whose expectation of a reward or affirmation are demanding or unrealistic.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Gerry, I agree with going overboard. People crave it. Unfortunately, we also have a generation of people who got praised for just showing up! I don't think we can do much about this other than to make sure we express honest gratitude and encouragement.

      • @dentmaker

        I recently recieved coaching feedback that I had said “thank you” too much during a presentation. Sometimes you need to hit the point and move on. I’m guilty!

  • John Richardson

    This is an interesting view of leadership and your points are right on the money. I think leaders need to be true to themselves and their employees. What they say behind the scenes needs to match up to what they say in public. Have you ever worked for a leader who bad mouths everyone behind the scenes, but puts on a smile in group meetings? Your point about giving public and private praise is so true.

    Unfortunately in the real world, there are a lot of leaders like Mark. Most of them have a revolving door of employees and constant problems. When you find a leader who espouses the qualities you describe, you've found a great place to work… indeed.

    • @gerrytrue

      Great observations John… the revolving door should be a clear sign that a leadership change is needed.

    • Michael Hyatt

      So true. I have worked for many “Marks,” myself. In fact, it’s almost always the norm. The great thing is it makes it easier for real leaders to stand out!

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  • Laurinda

    I have worked for a "Mark" before. This guy also made fun of people – though he said he was joking. Nobody thought he was funny. I too walked away when I had enough. It was the only time I've been unemployed. It's interesting that you mentioned he was former military. I've heard used as an excuse for such an abusive management style. I don't sense that from the likes of Colin Powell and other well respected military leaders.

    All your points are right on. If you earn the respect as a leader of the team, you won't have to worry about people developing an attitude of entitlement with praise and rewards. They'll also come to appreciate the correction when errors were made.

    • @gerrytrue

      You right Laurinda, A leader who genuinely cares for the team and earns their respect doesn't usually have to confront an entitlement attitude… and caring leader doesn't "jokingly" degrade people on the team.

  • ThatGuyKC

    Having grown up in a military town I can definitely identify with the challenges of working for/with former members of the armed forces.

    Thank you for calling out these keys to using authority to lead instead of lording over.

    • Michael Hyatt

      My wife comes from a military family. I have had some work for me, and some I have worked with. Thankfully, all of my exposure has been positive. Those I have been around were models of servant-leadership.

      • ThatGuyKC

        I'm a Navy brat myself (both parents were in enlisted) and some of the best role models I had growing up were the officers and enlisted men at our church.

        Definitely inspiring.

        (Sorry if it sounded like I was dogging on them).

        • @gerrytrue

          I served 21 years in the Navy as a reservist and was called to active duty during 911. I experienced both sides. I was fortunate that most of those I served under were solid leaders.

  • donibbitson

    This is a great article and certainly sets high goals and standards that most leaders cannot meet in totality. As I reflect on my own history in the workplace and in ministry situations, I've seen that point 5, the "Reproduce" aspect has been most missing. It is rooted in fear I believe and can result in severe abuse which is demoralizing and keeps the organization/ministry from being all that it can. As a ministry leader now myself, I am trying to walk the narrow road in each of these areas and need God's grace to do it every day. Thank you for posting this.

    • @gerrytrue

      Solid Insight… Thanks for sharing!

  • Brandon

    i agree with every bit of this post… It is one thing to be the "boss", but it is another thing to be the "leader".

  • Michael Hyatt

    Amen to that. I like John Maxwell’s distinction of leadership as influence rather than control.

  • alisa hope

    Great insight! The best leaders inspire people to give their all; they don't bully.

    Plus, I love the alliteration….always a nice bonus with lists.

    • @gerrytrue

      That is a powerful thought… "Inspire people to give their all; don't bully" – inspiring people to do and be more than they ever dreamed opens up a world of opportunities. No one goes far when they feel pushed, bullied or guilted into better performance.

  • Marc Millan

    The five R's. What an amazing list. THANK YOU

  • Pattwalk

    I work for “Mark”. I am trying to find work elsewhere, but in the mean time, how do you recommend that coworkers and I plant seeds that let him know there are other ways of leading?