AuthorityThis is a tough topic to address. We live in an age where the rights of the individual top the interests of a group. However, in a business context it is critical that we understand authority; it’s role, it’s use, and it’s consequences. Without authority a business cannot succeed. The issues is not one of “if there must be authority” but rather “how there should be authority”.

It’s a contract

Once an individual agrees to receive compensation in the form of a pay cheque there is a contract formed. You agree to fulfil the obligations of your job description in return for that compensation. By virtue of this contract you are working under some authority. That is the nature of a contract. Granted, the contract holder, the employer also has obligations as governed by law and business precedence.

The point is that, like it or not, you are under contractual authority. But let’s move on.

How to use authority

Rarely is the short answer! The use of authority should be an act of last resort. But when you have to use authority it should be used with quiet confidence and respect. Implied use of authority is a great way to exercise authority. An example of this would be “I need you to do XYZ because it is key to ABC objective. Can you please start work on that now? Thanks.” The tone of voice is critical. It must not be demanding. Rather, it should be conversational. A hard use of authority would be something like this. “Stop what you are doing and do XYZ.”

When to use your authority

As a leader you are obligated to manage your human, financial, and hard assets to achieve the objectives within your scope of responsibilities. You must discharge this responsibility seriously. Often this means that you have to manage problem staff or problem peers.

A staff example: There are a clear set of HR processes for managing and documenting the misbehaviour of staff. Understand the processes and adhere to them. Use your authority as required. You cannot allow ongoing poor contributions from a staff member. An old adage is “good news long and slow, bad news fast and furious”. Once you have exhausted fair efforts to change staff behaviour you need to shift into action mode with decisive decisions.

For problem peers I typically work on a three step process.

  1. I work to explain the challenge to ensure that we are on the same page regarding the challenge.
  2. If nothing changes I restate and highlight the business impacts and advise that the business cannot continue to realize the impact(s).
  3. I escalate to upper management. I can now demonstrate that a reasonable effort to work together was made and that I have exhausted my efforts to correct the problem.

Alternatives to using authority

Good leaders don’t use their authority unless they have to. The best leadership tools are things like;

  • Demonstrating value and appreciation for staff contribution
  • Making the work space respectful and fun
  • Enabling work diversity when and where possible to develop skills
  • Allow a sense of individuality in work styles
  • Enabling a “token” reward system for departments
  • Championing for fair compensation
  • Create and champion an inclusive and fair work environment

This doesn’t sound like using authority does it?  These tools create an environment where staff feel respected and appreciated. This will translate into a willingness to work with a sense of engagement. This may seem counter intuitive but this is the best context for building a self-motivated team. Self-motivation is the best alternative to the use of authority.

Typical “fails” in using authority

There are a number of typical mistakes that new leaders make when exercising authority. This includes confusing earned respect from demanded respect. Not understanding positional authority versus personal reputation based authority. You can get the same or better results when you ask, versus tell, when assigning tasks to someone. Dropping common courtesy should never be an option; please and thank-you should be mandatory for leaders. Another common error is assuming that having a title makes you better then staff – it doesn’t.

Rare special use of authority

There are rare occasions when you need to use your authority like a hot knife through butter. Good managers need to learn to not shy away from these “champion” events.

  • Stopping the corporate bully. Don’t let this happen, ever.
  • Allowing the quiet or shy to have a voice.
  • Defending your staff from senior management when the staff are in the right in a “punishable” event.
  • Demanding respect from clients in how they treat your staff.
  • Defending your staff from senior managements excessive use of authority

The authority conundrum

You often have it but can’t or shouldn’t use it. Or, when you need it you don’t have it! The bottom line is that good management skills are you best set of tools enabling you to reserve the use of authority as a line of last action.

How do you use authority? What are some good and bad examples of authority use that you can think of?

David Reimer


Getting and giving advice

business-adviceNone of us is an island.  Nor do any of us have all the answers.  It would be fair to say that we live in a world of collaboration which is an awesome thing.  Sharing ideas, challenging each other, taking the thread of an idea and watching it shift, change, and morph into some exciting it just plain fun.  It’s a sugar rush for the brain!

Dealing with challenges

Facing a career decision or some other major decision is a challenge for all of us.  Being able to seek out the counsel of others and hear their ideas and suggestions is invaluable.  We have likely all benefited from this kind of situation.

The problem

Here’s the problem as I see it.  Each of us is likely stuck in a generational bubble.  University students only seek the advice of other university students.  Young up and coming business people tend to only seek advice from their peers.  Managers striving for senior leadership roles often only seek the counsel of peers.

Cross pollination

This is too narrow an advice process.  I think it is critical that we cross pollenate generational thinking up and down the chain.  As a young man entering the business world my dad advised me to find three people who were in difference career roles, successful, who I respected, and to seek their counsel on any significant decisions.  One of the best pieces of business advice I have ever received!  I have used the model of three advisors for my entire life.

It’s about mix

Early on I sought the advice of people who were senior to me in role and age.  Over time I mixed it up by adding the advice of much younger people to keep me balanced in my perspective.  This has enabled me to make much better decisions.  I also sought the advice of peers but I purposed to keep it mixed up by adding generational advice.


You should work at developing professional relationships up and down the generational chain so that you get good balanced advice. As a younger person I learned to listen with patience to the advice of older people.  There is absolute relevance in their stories – you just have to listen for it.  Now, as an older person, I have learned to listen with patience to the advice of younger people.  There is absolute relevance in their stories – I just have to listen for it!

Core principles

I find that the best approach for getting value out of generational advice is to try and distill the conversation down to a principle or two.  What is the core principle of the advice being given to me?  I ask a lot of questions to ensure that I understand their perspective.

Today I have a rich group of people ranging from early 30’s to 80’s who are part of my advice pool.  They help me make better decisions.

How about you?  Who is in your advice pool?  Do you have a healthy generational mix?  If not, what can you do to improve it?

David Reimer

Role specific skills versus life skills

glance_business_skills-1140x420Most high performance up and coming leaders do not appear to truly understanding the difference between role specific skills and life skills.  This is an important conversation as it relates to your long term career goals.  So, let’s break this down.

Two skills buckets

You should evaluate and categorize your skills into two buckets.  Technical or role specific skills and life skills. Most people seem to be driven to develop role specific skills with the hope that they will lead to advancement.  Role specific skills do not make great leaders.  They make good managers. Department managers need to have good technical or work specific, or process specific skills.  Good managers are wonderful.  However, if you want to be a true business leader you need to think in terms of life skills.

Life skills

Life skills are skills that are transferable to any type of role – they are not role specific, they are ubiquitous.  They are the skills that you must acquire in order to be a formidable leader.  This includes things like peer management, upward / downward management, financial understanding, understanding and valuing process, return on investment calculations, cost / value analysis, personal brand, root cause analysis, and the list goes on and on.  Life skills are a set of business concepts that individually equip you to manage specific situations or challenges.  A full set of life skills will give you a depth of business acumen that will clearly separate you from the pack.

What to look for

Each of us is presented with numerous life skill learning opportunities every day.  It’s a matter of understanding what to look for and how to take advantage of the learning opportunities.  Once you start to think in terms of life skill learning you will be surprised at how you will look at your daily business activity in a different way.  This new perspective is the beginning of seeing with the eyes of a true leader.

An experience

I was working for a company that was failing and everyone was jumping ship.  As I considered my career choices it struck me that I could learn a lot by riding the business to the bottom.  Against the advice of my peers, and conventional wisdom, I decided to stay and see what happens.  It was a great decision. I learned a whole set of lesson from that experience.  I learned how not to run a business, how to manage stress and tension, how to manage terminations, how to manage vendors in crisis, how to communicate bad news, and so on.  My learning curve was unique and valuable as compared to everyone who bailed early.  I learned a set of life skills that shaped and influenced my thinking for the better.

It’s about choices

This experience has driven me to make career choices that enhance life skills learning.  The end result has been a depth of business acumen and relevance that is distinctive.  This is part of what makes good leaders.

What do you think?  What life skills are you learning?  If you are not learning them, what could you do differently to get into the game?

David Reimer

Mentoring leads to business acumen

imagesIf you are a leader, or emerging leader, then this should be helpful to you.  The goal is to develop business acumen – that is the underpinning business knowledge that comes from experience and wisdom.

Today’s Reality

It is my experience that the generation behind me has not had the benefit of what I would call deep corporate training. Today bilateral loyalty is not the normal experience.  Therefore the investment in training staff for advancement is missing.  This is a gap that I am passionate about filling!

The best mentoring occurs when there is a rich dialogue that is rooted in a current challenge or problem.  The best outcome for this blog is that you, the reader, will engage with comments and questions.  This would help you to get the highest value from this blog.

A mentoring model

It strikes me that the ancient village square dynamics were a good way to mentor.  Imagine with me if you will the following; people with a lot of experience who have a willingness to share that experience are sitting around a village square – let’s call them the elders.  Young men and women who are in various stages of developed responsibility take some time out of their day to come and sit and listen to the elder’s conversation.  Or maybe they have pressing challenges – a presentation to make to senior management, a peer relationship challenge, career objectives are blurred and need clarity, or some other real business based event in their lives that they want to discuss.  The elders listen and then a lively dialogue ensues.  Business concepts are tossed about, root cause analysis is explored, pros and cons are weighted, and the discussion becomes a rich tapestry of learning.  To me this is mentoring.

Mentoring mechanics

I don’t think mentoring is a lecture or a classroom or any form of one way, or worse, mandated one way communication.  True mentoring is rooted in the ebb and flow of real life.  It is a discussion, a dialogue, which is ultimately distilled into a root cause analysis or a business concept, or a principle.  The outcome of true mentoring should be an increase in business acumen.  If you can acquire true business acumen then you will be a formidable leader.  That is my goal – to develop formidable leaders by increasing an individual’s business acumen.  How does that sound to you?

So there it is… my first blog!  And so this journey, or is it an experiment, begins.

What business situation do you want to address today?

David Reimer