Management Tips··9 min read

Spot The Difference: Authority Vs Leadership

authority vs leadership

When it comes to authority vs leadership, knowing the difference between the two can make a huge difference. However, since there's a fine line between authority and leadership, it's essential to make a thorough distinction so you know the best management approach to take.

With that in mind, here are the crucial differences you need to know between authority and leadership.

Key Takeaways

  • Authority is positional and enforces obedience, while leadership inspires and motivates through personal influence.
  • Leaders encourage open communication and team input, contrasting with the directive nature of authority.
  • Effective leadership fosters a healthy work culture by promoting collaboration and employee engagement.
  • Leadership involves active participation in team activities, whereas authority often relies on issuing orders from a distance.
  • While authority can be essential for organizational structure, leadership is crucial for achieving sustained team success and innovation.

What Is Authority In Leadership?

When a person has authority, they can give orders and enforce decisions. The people at the organization's helm, such as business owners, CEOs, and executives, have authority. This authority is exercised over the people below, who are at the bottom of the company's hierarchy.

Examples of authority in leadership are when management directs team activities or promotes or fires people. This authority comes from the power that is inherent in the position. This means that authority is not the same thing as power. Instead, authority is simply the right to use power. So when a person is exercising authority, they have a right to use that power. This is different than, for instance, a thief who uses their power to take what does not belong to them forcefully.

People in authority are expected to set rules, give commands, exert dominance, take control, and be in charge, which isn't always bad. In fact, the importance of authority in leadership shouldn't be underestimated because, without authority, it's easy for a company's operations to descend into chaos. Management is supposed to have authority to achieve the organization's critical goals through their teams and the people they manage.

Having authority lends weight to a particular position and comes with specific responsibilities. The good news is that authority can be delegated, which allows for a more efficient business framework that empowers everyone to do their best work with fewer restrictions.

What Is Leadership?

Now that we have looked at what is authority in leadership, it's time to look at the other half of the equation – leadership. Again, it's important to emphasize that leadership is not the same thing as authority or power though there's a strong relationship between these two things. For starters, leadership is the ability to inspire people to follow you to achieve a common goal or objective.

So, in contrast to authority, leadership involves guiding, assisting, supervising, and communicating with team members instead of giving orders or commands.

Leadership is often viewed in a better light because it inspires respect rather than commands obedience. Still, authority has its place, so it's essential to strike a balance between the two so you have the proper authority leadership style that effectively achieves vital company objectives.

Authority Vs Leadership - 10 Differences You Need to Know About

As mentioned, knowing the differences between authority and leadership is crucial for continued organizational success. Each authority leadership example below will give you a better idea of how authority vs leadership works.

Positional Attribute Vs Personal Attribute

The main difference between authority and leadership is that authority comes with the position, meaning it's given. On the other hand, leadership is a personality trait that some people naturally have, while others work hard to develop this attribute.

When people respect someone who has authority, they respect their position, but when people respect a leader, they respect the person and the character that person has.

If an individual is placed in a management position, they need more than authority. In fact, someone with leadership qualities can be more effective than someone with authority.

Giving Orders Vs Participating

Authority involves giving orders, which is part of the job. However, without leadership in the picture, being authoritative implies getting on your high horse, giving out orders, and observing to see if those orders are being followed. To exercise leadership, it goes without saying that you have to lead by example, which implies participation.

That way, you encourage teamwork by asking everyone to chip in towards a collective goal. Otherwise, if you're not involved in your team's mission, it means you have less influence over the outcome.

But if your team has someone to look up to, they will use your expectations and feedback to set a higher standard and work harder to achieve the set goal. The good news is you can still command the respect you deserve even if you roll up your sleeves and participate in projects from time to time.

Forcing People to Achieve Results Vs Inspiring People to Achieve Results

Most people instinctively know the importance of respecting authority. After all, failure to obey authority often comes with unwanted consequences, such as demotion and getting fired. However, without leadership, you're merely forcing people to achieve the results you want instead of inspiring them to achieve the desired results.

The problem with overreliance on your authority is that it requires that you spend a lot of energy and resources that are better spent elsewhere. For instance, when a manager micromanages, they rely too much on their authority to keep the team on track. When they finally learn to become a better leader, they realize that delegating authority and motivating people, not pushing them, can achieve better results.

A person in authority might be the boss because they can command people, but that doesn't mean team members will follow them. On the surface, it might seem like authority can influence actions independently. However, the people you lead will intentionally or unintentionally hinder progress since they are not on the same page as you. The key is to leverage the right leadership skills to connect with team members and inspire them to follow you.

Being Arrogant Vs Being Humble

Management that relies on authority alone can be viewed as arrogant. Usually, people who overuse authority think that whatever they say goes and they have all the answers and influence.

They don't want to delegate authority or receive feedback because they're afraid it will undermine their authority. They also take credit for every achievement that happens in the workplace instead of acknowledging the work done by team members.

This can be bad for the organization, leading to resentment and plenty of inefficiencies. Leaders must always recognize team effort, delegate authority, and include team members in the decision-making process for the best results. This doesn't mean you lose authority since you always have the final say when implementing decisions.

Closed Door Policy Vs Open Door Policy

Good leaders are approachable, and they welcome communication from their team members. That's why they have an open-door policy to help them build connections with the people they work with. Influential leaders are willing to listen actively, which is how team members know their best interests are represented.

However, those who are too enamored with their position of authority hardly take the time to listen and understand the problems or concerns team members are dealing with.

This one-way communication results in decision-making that has no idea of what's happening on the ground. On the other hand, two-way communication gives team members a voice, and once they feel they have a say, they will be motivated to complete projects successfully.

Focusing On You Vs Focusing On the Team

When it comes to authority vs leadership, one crucial distinction that needs to be made is that leadership isn't just about the person in charge. Indeed, the person in charge or the boss is the one that seemingly makes things happen and can make people run around if they want to.

However, the truth is, accomplishing projects and achieving the results you want takes teamwork. So a good leader recognizes the importance of their team and does all they can to create the right conditions for success.

For instance, many training programs and company initiatives require buy-in from management. So it's up to leaders to create a healthy work culture, which brings us to the next point about authority in leadership.

Unhealthy Work Culture Vs, Healthy Work Culture

Overall, authority in leadership can build a healthy and thriving work culture. This is not something that can be accomplished with authority alone. It's not hard to see why authority plus leadership produces better results. It fosters communication and free expression, and this kind of flexibility encourages team members to collaborate.

In addition, good leaders aren't afraid to encourage friendly work environments that are fun to work in. They also implement employee reward programs to recognize hard work and boost employee satisfaction and performance. Good leaders can enforce rules to maintain order and efficiency because they know how to use authority effectively.

Learn More

Looking to refine your leadership approach? Browse through our detailed guides and articles in Management and Leadership to gain new insights and strategies.

  • Discover different management styles for effective leadership that can elevate your approach. Explore our comprehensive guide!
  • Enhance your leadership prowess with our recommended best leadership activities. Ideal for leaders seeking improvement.
  • 90% of businesses recognize that continuous improvement is essential. Our evaluation of management tips can optimize your strategies.
  • Transform your management approach with our selection of people management books. Discover top recommendations today!
  • Find tips on selecting the right leaders for your team with our article on choose a manager properly.

The Final Word

To summarize, authority and leadership have their own place in managing an organization, but leadership is more crucial to the success of that organization. Authority is just about the title, but being a leader means being larger than life and exerting more influence.

By understanding the differences mentioned above between authority and leadership, those in management positions will make an effort to develop leadership qualities and strike a balance that drives more positive outcomes.


What is the difference between leadership and authority?

Leadership and authority differ in that leadership encourages people to act through inspiration and influence, often relying on personal qualities, while authority involves exercising authority granted by an official position within an organization.

What is the difference between formal authority and leadership?

Formal authority is derived from holding a certain position within an organization, compelling obedience based on the power of the position, whereas leadership relies more on personal influence and the ability to motivate and inspire others without necessarily having formal authority.

What is the difference between power and leadership?

Power often relates to the ability to enforce action through legitimate power or formal authorities, while leadership is about guiding and influencing others through more personal interaction and effective leadership strategies that may include offering constructive criticism or proposing radical solutions.

Is authority a leadership relationship?

Authority is just a title that can designate someone as an authority figure, but it does not automatically imply a leadership relationship. Leadership is characterized by the ability to genuinely influence and guide others beyond the mere exercise of power.

Is authority a leadership style?

Authority alone is not a leadership style but a component of broader leadership frameworks. Great leaders use authority when necessary but primarily lead by fostering a company culture that values innovation and collaboration.

How leadership differs from authority and management?

Leadership differs from authority and management in that it seeks to inspire and create followers through vision and interpersonal relationships, rather than relying solely on the hierarchical power of formal authority or the structured control typical of management within the entire organization.

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