Back in the 1980s the phrase 'power suit' was used to describe a suit characterised by sharp cuts and wide shoulder pads worn by the rich and powerful. They were meant to denote that the person was successful, but for many the phrase also became synonymous with someone who portrayed success on the outside, but lacked integrity on the inside.
What we wear does make a difference to how we are perceived. If you meet someone, if they are dressed poorly then it creates an impression, rightly or wrongly, that the organisation they stand for is poorly run. When I was a headteacher, if I had an important meeting I would make sure that my 'jacket of power' was on. Putting on my jacket made me look smarter and did add to a sense of presence. However if we just rely on on clothing we are missing the point.
Recently, a number of us in my family have enjoyed watching the American TV series 'Suits'. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suits_(TV_series) ) Suits is set at a fictional law firm in New York City. The focal point of the show follows talented college dropout Mike Ross, who initially works as a law associate for Harvey Specter, despite never actually attending law school. The programme is full of smartly dressed suited men and women but the programme is all about the 'win at all costs' behaviour. Their jackets are made from the finest cloth, but their characters are not.
So what makes someone follow a leader? Well, it is true that the leader needs to have something that others want to follow. Of course, an idea or a vision for something better is a key part of that. 'I have a dream', by Martin Luther King Is perhaps the most famous vision speech, that millions chose to follow because he laid out an important vision for the future. Every day leaders across the globe lay out their plans for others to follow and without vision, there is not a lot to follow. However, a vision without a leader of integrity will fail. Bob Marly said, "The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively."
Our real jacket of power, our real authority, comes when we develop our character to be one of integrity. Character has to be worked on. Our character starts with the thoughts that we have. Our actions or behaviour start from our thoughts, leads to actions and the more we do these, the more they become a habit and then part of our character. So creating a good character starts with watching our thoughts and ensuring good thoughts lead to action, habit and character that shows integrity. Our character of integrity is there whether people are looking or not. People follow people who they can trust.
If you look up the dictionary definition of 'authority' it is quite narrow.
1. Institutionalized and legal power inherent in a particular job, function, or position that is meant to enable its holder to successfully carry out his or her responsibilities.
2. Power that is delegated formally. It includes a right to command a situation, commit resources, give orders and expect them to be obeyed, it is always accompanied by an equal responsibility for one's actions or a failure to act.
For me, true authority is much deeper and richer. It is a rich character, an honesty, integrity and service of others that compels people to follow not just the vision that a person holds but the character that they are. Authority can be worked on and developed and I think there are 7 key components of developing true authority.
It starts internally with an attitude of service, being people focused. Thanking people for their contribution and crediting them with what they have done and not taking any glory for yourself. Building trust by being honest, reliable and consistent. Showing integrity by having good moral principles and being honest. That includes admitting mistakes if they happen. These then work themselves out externally with respect of others, by treating others as equals. Having a focus on hearing others, through listening to understand and letting others speak first and then bringing your wisdom to them. When all of this is in place, then assurance that you bring has weight. You then speak with experience and conviction and it has weight. The seventh component is that you share. Giving time to your team, to others and helping them develop, moves you from someone of experience, to someone of authority.
Look at each one of these and score yourself out of 5 for each one. Which one can you work on this week? Practice makes perfect!
So when you go to work this week, what jacket of power will you put on? By all means wear the smart jacket and the confidence that it brings. More importantly though, clothe yourself in the components of authority.