Question Authority... the Consequences

Some of us are old enough to remember the 1960s mantra, "Question authority." It has lived on, certainly, and isn't rare on bumper stickers and other cultural communications. However, have you considered the consequences of this mindset? It's important that we examine it, because we are reaping in leadership the natural result of this thinking.

As an introduction, let's consider 19th Century leadership. Largely as a result of the culture of the military and monarchy, the positions held by men (almost exclusively) led to respect of and obedience by their underlings. An officer had the unquestioned following of his men, in fear or habit or love or trust, they followed.

But, peaking in the 20th century, as a result of men thinking more of themselves than they ought--not to mention exceeding their own competence--those they led rebelled, resulting in labor unions, organized opposition, and fundamental questioning of authority.

This progression led to the loss of structure that had supported leadership for centuries. Followers of those authoritarian leaders were far more educated than had historically been the case, and many were at least as educated as those leaders. As a result, the followers were able to assess for themselves the validity or folly of their authority's ideas.
To a point, of course, this is good and healthy. A title, position, or benevolence doesn't necessarily mean that the titleholder has what it takes to lead. It also doesn't meant that they don't! And there's the rub.

What has happened as a result of the mantra to "Question Authority" is a wholesale loss of respect for anyone in authority, regardless of their actual capabilities or credentials. Even credientials that have historically demonstrated competence are now ignored, belittled, or worse.

The bottom line is that position gives the leader little leverage.

Instead, it may be a handicap!

So, it is even more incumbent upon the leader to understand her team. And to learn their motivations for being involved in the team's objectives. On top of that, the post-modern leader needs to capture the respect of his team members starting when the team is formed, and continuously thereafter. We'll talk about this in more detail in a later post...

All of that said, here're the keys:

  1. As a leader, recognize that you have to win the respect and following of your team every day
  2. As a follower, realize that your leader may actually have a lot of experience to guide you, but you'll have to pay attention to find out.