Authority vs Authoritativeness

In modern times, the exercise of leadership, at all levels and contest, requires knowing how to modulate authority and authoritativeness according to the context and characteristics of the people.

It is therefore important to understand the characteristics of both in order to maximize their strengths and contain their limits.

Authoritativeness is the characteristic of an individual who has the ability to involve others by managing to influence their behavior. Is not learned but is built and consolidated over time. It develops by demonstrating a participatory rather than a directive attitude. Whoever is endowed with authoritativeness more often knows more than anyone but, knows his limits and listens to the opinions of others. An authoritative individual is followed because he/she is recognized for his/her influence as a guide and his/her natural function as a leader who deserves the trust and esteem of others.

Authoritativeness forms itself slowly thanks to its own merits, those that others attribute to us, and that makes us credible in one or more given fields of competence. This is why authoritativeness goes hand in hand with age. Whether we want it or not, it is a sort of natural path: experience increases competence which in turn underpins authoritativeness.

Whoever is authoritative thanks to this natural process is authoritative beyond the contingent situation.

A peculiarity of authoritative people is humility, and those who are humble know when to speak with knowledge because they have something to say and when to listen carefully to learn new concepts and ideas, so that silence is also authoritative.

Authority derives from power and rank within an organization. The subject-oriented only to the authority believes that he must be obeyed only because the order is given by a hierarchically superior person and not because the order was given or what he asks for is right or correct.

The advantages of this model are the rapid decision-making by the boss who does not necessarily have to justify the decisions and the employees are called to obey.

The disadvantages are due to the fact that in this model the employees are “problem bearers” and the bosses are “solution bearers”. In the long run and with the increase of managed resources, this model produces de-responsibility of employees and burnout of bosses due to excess decision-making stress.

It is therefore a model that can work perhaps in realities that require a high level of centralized decision-making (in an emergency room, in the military, a group of firefighters, a help-desk, etc.). Ultimately, it is a model that favors efficiency at the expense of greater effectiveness.

So the first and only problem, common to many dimensions and realities of our life and human nature, is not about having or not having authorities but is that of having “good” authorities.

More generally, it remains firm that whoever has the responsibility of driving and governing, namely the very meaning of the existence of authority in the social context (which requires it), of any type, must be a guarantor, promoting or sanctioning of the various behaviors in favor or against this objective, without which there is no peaceful coexistence and therefore the concrete realization of the common good. Only in these terms, the power exercised by legitimate authority finds its raison d’etre in its specific function with regard to a group or company. That’s because the real sense of authority should be not the result of a contract between the associates, but a requirement of the social nature of man. So the first and only problem, common to many dimensions and realities of our life and human nature, is not about having or not having authorities but is that of having “good” authorities. And they will be such to the extent that they will promote and defend the rights of each and the good of all. Only in this way will they be authorities that will have authoritativeness at the same time. Authorities subjected to the principle of legality and capable of affirming laws right that recognizes the natural rights of people.

Otherwise, an exercise of authority would take place contrary to reason, to the dignity of the person, to the common good, which therefore would have the characteristics of violence being in fact mere arbitrary act contrary to reason and for the good of others.

In fact, the evolution of times and post-industrial society require leaders who base their skills on authority and on technical or methodological competence, but authority and authoritativeness can coexist in the same person, balanced and modulated in relation to the characteristics of their collaborators, the contexts, the moment. It is not a question of commanding or not: it is “how” one commands that really matters.

Unfortunately, more and more often, by election or by appointment of a higher authority, and for different reasons (ideological, practical, of personal interest, incompetence, aiding and abetting, etc.), roles of authority are entrusted/delegated to people who objectively do, not they have the ability to exercise it, indeed it is easily foreseeable that they will be a real disaster for the community or the institution.

Perhaps, those who are elected or appointed do not even notice or are not convinced that they are not up to the task, thus doing even more harm. This unfortunate phenomenon must make us wonder about the consequences and the damage that can derive from it and not always passively accept these choices, trying to manifest, in a way, the inconveniences that have arisen in society or in the institution.

Just as those who cast their votes to elect a person who knows how to be incompetent or unprepared, or whoever appointed them, have a very serious responsibility in front of them in their conscience and in front of others.


Aldo Delli Paoli
Aldo Delli Paoli
Aldo is a lawyer and teacher of law & Economic Sciences, "lent" to the finance world. He has worked, in fact, 35 years long for a multinational company of financial service in the auto sector, where he held various roles, until that of CEO. In the corporate field, he has acquired skills and held positions as Credit Manager, Human Resource Manager, Team leader for projects of Acquisition & Merger, branch opening, company restructuring, outplacement, legal compliance, analysis and innovation of organizational processes, business partnerships, relations with Trade Unions and Financial Control Institutions. After leaving the company, he continued as an external member of the Board of Directors e, at the same time, he has gone back practicing law and was a management consultant for various companies. He has been also a columnist for newspapers specializing in labor law, automotive services and work organization. His interests include human behavior in the organizational environment, to the neuroscience, the impact of new technologies, the fate of the planet and people facing poverty or war scenarios. He loves traveling, reading, is passionate about many sports, follows the NBA and practices tennis.

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