What Is Authoritative Leadership? You Might be Surprised

What Is Authoritative Leadership?

I’ve mentioned it’s possible to learn leadership lessons from even the most unlikely sources. Should we look to South Park’s Cartman? What is Authoritative Leadership?

South Park may have jaded my view on this leadership style. As a child of the 90s, it’s hard for me to read words rooted in “authority” and not hear “You Will Respect Mah Authoritah!”

Authoritative leadership lands on the positive side of Daniel Goleman’s six styles. When I saw that, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical. In the Harvard Business Review article Leadership That Gets Results, Goleman indicates authoritative leadership positively impacts those we lead. Of his six leadership styles, authoritative leadership has the most significant positive impact on workplace climate.

Goleman refers to “vibrant enthusiasm and clear vision” as hallmarks of the authoritative leadership style. Authoritative leaders skillfully communicate a clear and compelling vision. They invite those they lead to come with them on the journey to achieving that vision.

What is required to utilize this effective leadership style?

Respect Mah Authoritah!

Are you not accustomed to reflecting on South Park episodes for leadership wisdom?

I’ll bring you up to speed.

Cartman Big WheelIn an early episode, a local police officer deputized an elementary school-aged Cartman. After receiving his newly acquired power, Cartman attempts to make a traffic stop on his tricked-out Big Wheel. But, as expected, the adult driver bucks Cartman’s authority. At that point, young Cartman responds with the classic phrase, “You Will Respect Mah Authoritah!”

Trust – The Authoritative Leadership Foundation

Looking to Cartman for a lesson on authoritative leadership might be a stretch. However, the exchange between Cartman and the adult driver highlights one of the challenges for many new leaders. When first granted our leadership title, those we lead may respond much like Cartman’s questioning driver.

The Oxford dictionary defines authoritative as:

“Able to be trusted as being accurate or true; reliable.”

Authoritative and authoritarian leadership are very different. While authoritarians demand compliance, authoritative leadership requires a solid foundation of trust. Cartman may have had vibrant enthusiasm, but his cop glasses and police lights (on his tricycle) did little to legitimize his role.

In today’s western culture, it’s unlikely our leadership is effective simply because of a title. Yes, French and Raven argue that there are multiple ways to achieve power. They would likely suggest Cartman’s approach aligns with coercive power. While this is a base of power, in today’s free-market environment, this approach rarely leads to long-term effectiveness. Today’s leaders need to know that gaining trust precedes our ability to function as effective authoritative leaders.

Three Questions for the Authoritative Leader

How can we become effective authoritative leaders if we are just getting started? How can we lead others towards achieving a clearly communicated vision? We begin by first striving to answer three simple questions. John Maxwell suggests there are three questions every follower asks of their leader:

1. Can you help me?

One of the most effective ways to grow as a leader is to focus on adding value to those you lead. Adding value can take on many forms, but taking time each day to intentionally add value to others helps answer the first question, “can you help me?”

2. Do you care about me?

As we regularly look for ways to add value to others, we show we are willing to invest in them. This communicates the simple message that we value them. When we show others we appreciate them, we answer the second question, “do you care about me?”

3. Can I trust you?

Our willingness to help and genuine care for those we lead builds the foundation to begin a journey. At this point, we must step forward with authenticity. Building a foundation of trust doesn’t require flawless execution in our journey. It requires taking action to the best of our ability and being willing to admit when we have made mistakes. Yes, building trust requires a level of competence. However, it’s just as essential to lead with authenticity. In my own life, I’ve learned that my trust isn’t the strongest with those who seem to obtain perfection. It’s with those who are completely transparent.

What is Authoritative Leadership?

Authoritative leaders skillfully communicate a clear and compelling vision. They invite those they lead to come with them on the journey to achieving the vision. We must answer the three questions when encouraging others to join us on this journey. We must intentionally add value to others, invest in others, and lead with authenticity.

Lead like Cartman and travel your journey alone. Answer Maxwell’s three questions and watch others join you on your journey.


Want to learn about other leadership styles? Read more here.

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