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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Authority, leadership different animals, October 27, 2006, 2D.

When many people hear the word “leader,” a variety of titles and positions come to mind.  President, chief executive officer, manager, principal, pastor, coach, and general are some titles that are associated with leaders and leadership.  In many cases, the individuals who rise to such positions do so because they possess leadership abilities and qualities.  Owning such titles, however, does not guarantee that the person filling that organizational role is actually a leader.  Titles in organizations convey authority.  Authority is power that is vested in a certain position and is formally defined in an organization’s personnel manual and bylaws or constitutions.  Leadership is different.

A simple, but powerful example to get people to think about leadership versus other forms of power and influence involves placing a string on a table and asking a volunteer to “lead” the string across the table with one finger.  Invariably, volunteers will place a finger on one end of the string and draw it easily across the table with the string “following” the finger. 

In a second demonstration, the string is “pushed” from behind by a single finger.  This method requires the influencer to adjust to the resistance, bending, and compression of the string in front of the finger and readjust his or her pushing to the parts that are falling behind.  After this demonstration, similarities and differences between the two methods are noted.  In both cases, a single finger was used to move the string across the table, but conceptually, the two methods are quite different. 

The first method, pulling the string behind the finger, is what we commonly think of as leadership—the “influencer” is out in front and the group follows. In organizations, this type of influence arises when followers perceive an individual to be worth following and they readily fall into line behind the individual.  Perceptions of worthiness arise when the influencer is respected by the followers—for his or her energy, commitment, charisma, and concern for the followers and the goals of the organization.  Leaders, or pullers, inspire followers to join them in the pursuit of organizational goals.  Followers willingly respond to the influence of leaders because of who they are, what they represent, and the rewards that come from accomplishing goals.

The second method, pushing from behind, demonstrates another form of power and influence.  “Pushers” in organizations often rely on threats, coercion, and intimidation to get their people to perform.  Instead of leading their followers in the charge toward a goal, pushers prefer lagging behind their workers and commanding them to perform.  Pushers derive their power from the authority vested in their organizational positions.  They do not inspire extraordinary amounts of commitment or dedication from their people. 

Holding a position of authority in an organization does not make one a leader.  Leadership has to be earned in the eyes, minds, and hearts of the followers.  True organizational leaders are those who inspire commitment, loyalty, and dedication to themselves, their organizations, and their goals from their followers.

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© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved