The Nature of an Authority Relationship

In our last post, we posed several questions in an attempt to define the term leadership, as distinct from authority. The common use of the word leader, which actually refers to those in positions of authority, further lends confusion to our understanding of the concept.
Reference is made to certain individuals as great leaders, whether in our communities, organisations or even as head over nations. The search for leadership in some cultures seems narrowed to only persons in positions of authority, such that the station is confused with the action. Our quest for leadership to make progress for the common good of the citizens, has to mean much more than needing individuals to become authority figures. In our attempt to differentiate between leadership and authority, it is relevant to consider the nature of an authority relationship.


What exactly is Authority and how is it conferred?


The term authority has been relevant and critical to humans, particularly in relation to our social living. It’s application goes back thousands of years ago, when humans began living in communities, which presented a design challenge  regarding ensuring direction, protection and order. The other members of the community readily authorised the oldest member to fill this role. The authority structure or dominance hierarchy was formed based on the age and experience of members of the community, who since being around longer than others had the experience and expertise to provide direction for food, shelter, protection from preys and general wellbeing of the clan. But he had to be authorised by other members of the clan, howbeit implicitly, else it will be the reign of chaos and confusion, as is sometimes experienced when there is revolt or rebellion against the authority figure.


Authority simply put therefore is a relationship in which Party A entrust Party B with power in exchange for a service. In our daily living, we authorise and constantly provide individuals with grants of power, for example, hiring a mechanic to fix your car, taking your child to the doctor or having a baby sitter hired to tend your baby or when we authorise a politician through our votes to occupy a particular position. The grant of power is extended because we trust the other party to render a service. This norm of trust extends to every other aspect of our social living whether in relation to student/teacher, parishioner/pastor, citizen/ political office holder, or any other relationship involving grants of power. But when trust is broken, the authorising party becomes wary and cautious, not willing to trust anymore. We see this also play out in most colonised societies, as can be said to be the case with Nigeria, where from the colonial era till date, it’s been a perpetuation of perennial mistrust in our governance structures.
Another case in point is in relation to the proposed visit of Pope Francis to Ireland in August, for the World Meeting of Families. I was watching the news yesterday, where in relation to the  visit, the state of catholicism in Ireland was being reviewed in comparison to 1979 when the then Pontiff – Pope John Paul last visited. Mass attendance is said to have reduced in the once staunchly Catholic country due to several factors, which includes the clerical sex abuse scandal of the 1990s, which affected considerably the moral authority of the Catholic church in Ireland. The same principle applies when a politician is authorised through the votes of majority of citizens in a country to occupy the highest office. He comes in with much goodwill and political capital, but what he chooses to do with it is the all important question. Authority speaks to who you are, your station and influence, but what  and how you choose to use it is a completely different matter. Am sure most, if not all of us are constantly involved in relationships where we are required to authorise and extend grants of power to those who have presented themselves as worthy and deserving of our trust for a purpose. Authority can be conferred formally and informally, and remains an essential ingredient in our daily social life but it’s not the same as the practice of leadership.
kindly share with us your own experiences with regards to the grant of power and whether your expectations were not met, met or exceeded.

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