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Power, Prestige - But No Respect


How to get the popular authority real leaders need.

You're a leader in your organization, and you're compensated accordingly. Yet it troubles you that you don't receive the recognition and acknowledgement you feel you so richly deserve - especially from your direct reports.

Many managers and executives find that success doesn't diminish one's basic emotional need for acceptance, inclusion and mutual respect. Assuming you haven't done anything appalling enough to make people genuinely despise you, the gap between your elevated position and the acceptance you want could be purely structural.

Leaders and their direct reports are invariably suspicious of one another; each feels that the other's vested interests will undermine their loyalty when push comes to shove (i.e. They'll sell each other out when the chips are down.)

A similar suspicion exists among peers: They're so often in direct competition with one another for advancement that backstabbing is a statistical certainty. The ultimate achievement for a leader who wants to achieve maximum effectiveness is to transcend these potential disconnects by transforming institutional authority into popular authority.

Institutional authority (sometimes referred to as unnatural or artificial authority) is granted by the powers that be in an organization. You're a leader because someone above you on the organizational food chain said so, instructed HR to print you new business cards, pay you accordingly, assign you an office with a door and, possibly, a window, and a parking space within one mile of the building.

All that "stuff" doesn't make you popular. It doesn't make anyone trust you. Anyone knows that flaunting such a power disparity doesn't win the hearts and minds of those you're ostensibly leading, which helps explain that gutted feeling that lonely leaders so often experience.

Institutional authority has its dangers. Most organizational leadership positions are filled by appointment rather than by democratic process. Over time, the leadership trust begins to look like a parody of itself rather; it fails to reflect the rich diversity of the organizational population. No matter how injudiciously selected they are, none of this prohibits leaders from earning the confidence, trust and loyalty of their direct reports and others inside and outside of the organization.
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