Why You Need to Own the Authority You’ve Been Given


The boss you don’t want to be

We’ve all seen leaders in higher education who were too quick to make executive decisions before learning the facts or who would impose their viewpoint on others. Most of us have had to implement new decisions or guidelines created by people who didn’t understand why their new ideas were not feasible or sustainable long-term. Many of us have had challenges working for someone with an inflated ego and love of power. And we never forgot how that felt.

As you advanced in your career in higher education, you’ve probably witnessed instances where poor leadership had devastating consequences on employees’ morale, motivation, and even self-confidence. You know what kind of boss you don’t want to become. You don’t want people to feel ignored or dismissed. You don’t want people to be upset with you. You don’t want them to think you’re abusing your power. I get it!

Are you focusing on the right issues?

While I agree that it is critically important to make your team members feel heard and valued, it is not the only goal. Interestingly, leaders who worry about being seen as abusing their power are never the ones who do it. Those who are guilty of disregarding participatory governance, who don’t listen to their team members, and who run their department as a dictatorship never worry about how it makes people feel. So, if you worry about it, it’s a very strong indication that you are not someone who would ever be, or be perceived as, a dictator. So please stop worrying about it.

Ask yourself, what characteristics do you like to see in a leader? You might say you’d like to work for someone who can paint a clear picture of where your team is going, who is a strategic thinker, who has a strong moral compass, who is courageous and confident, who focuses on service, who is decisive, who makes fair decisions, who is transparent, who is both compassionate and strong, who is trustworthy, who empowers you to grow and excel at your job, and so on. Describing what you want to see in a leader will help you define what you want to see in yourself. Set new professional and personal development goals to grow as a leader.

Owning your authority

Every time you move up on the organizational chart, you are given new duties, new responsibilities, and a higher level of authority. When you find yourself in a situation where you are the authority figure, it’s important to listen to what others have to say, but also to give yourself permission to make decisions and not give away the authority that was granted to you.

People need you to own the authority you have. They need to know that you have a vision and a plan, you give them direction, and they can trust you to make difficult decisions when necessary. They look up to you as their leader and if you show yourself as a peer rather than the person in charge, it will be harder for them to know they are in good hands. They risk becoming frustrated and over time, may have less respect for you.

It’s very common for new managers to lack assertiveness because they are overly focused on avoiding the spotlight and making everyone comfortable. While their intentions are good, they are not stepping up to the level of leadership required for their position. The best thing they can do for their team is to fully own the authority they were given.  

What does it mean, tangibly?

You still get to be highly collaborative and seek input in your decision-making process. You continue to be fair and respectful of others. You remain a servant leader who is dedicated to service to others rather than being self-serving. You don’t have to change who you are or compromise on any of your values. You simply have to give yourself permission to do what you know is right, even when some people may not like it.

That means sometimes you’ll need to establish clear boundaries. For example, when someone doesn’t add value to a discussion or a project, you will have to stop them from endless complaining, criticizing, or blaming. If someone tries to take over a discussion and pressure you to do what they want, you’ll need to remember that you can’t please everyone and can’t give power to the loudest or most unreasonable employees.

Keep in mind that as a new manager, it is now in your job description to be the leader and make decisions. As long as you use a fair process and keep people informed, you won’t have anything to apologize for.

Trust and confidence

When someone tells me they are not comfortable making tough decisions, it tends to be because they don’t trust themselves enough. Ask yourself, is there any truth in this for you? If yes, here are some simple reminders to help you find courage and confidence.

  • You were chosen for the job because you are competent and you have everything you need to succeed.

  • Authority and power are not about dominating others but about making things possible for others. You have the ability to make good things happen. You can serve at a higher level than you did before.

  • Once you create clear expectations and standards for your department, it will become easy to make decisions, as your standards will drive decisions, and things won’t appear personal or subjective.

  • You are expected to do your best but not to be perfect. It’s ok to make mistakes and learn from them. Don’t let fear of failure control you.

  • You may not always be able to predict how things will turn out but you can trust they will be ok in the end.

  • Trust in your ability to handle whatever arises.

  • Keep growing, keep learning, and what intimidates you today will become easier sooner than you think.

If you’re ready to fully step into your leadership role and want to prevent doubt, discomfort or fear from getting in the way, I invite you to click here and schedule a time to speak with me about working together. Willpower alone isn’t enough to change our behaviors. To change, we first need to understand the reasons why we do what we do. I’d love to help facilitate the process so that you can thrive as a leader in higher education. Let’s talk soon.  

 About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, and online courses. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.