Do Leaders Need Authority To Lead?

Paweł Huryn
3 min readAug 10, 2022

One of the managers I was helping told me: “I am the Product Owner, and according to the Scrum Guide, the entire organization must respect my decisions.”

I was speechless when I heard that.

I talk to many Product Managers and Product Owners who repeat that they want “more authority to make decisions.” Others say that “no” is the most critical word in their dictionary.

I don’t feel convinced. In my opinion, that statements are often the result of weak leadership. As Clay Scroggins said:

“Leaders lead with the authority of leadership . . . or without it. The authority is largely irrelevant — if you are a leader, you will lead when you are needed.”

Instead of waiting for more authority and complaining about your organization, try this:

  • Experiment — Perform small experiments and use data and evidence rather than gut feeling. Demonstrate that you make well-researched decisions. Over time, this will allow you to increase the trust of others.
  • Be humble and open-minded Feel good about not being the most intelligent person in the room. Great leaders don’t need to prove what they are worth to others. They acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses and are aware that they, too, have limitations. Let the best ideas win.
  • Build credibility Keep your word, and don’t make promises if you can’t keep them. Be transparent with information and decision criteria. It doesn’t mean pleasing everyone.
  • Listen to others — Encourage others to participate in decision-making. Listen actively with awareness, processing what’s being said, not who’s saying it.
  • Have an evident work ethic and principles — Don’t gossip, don’t criticize others when they’re away, and don’t complain about your employer.
  • Grow as professional — Continuous learning is a leader’s superpower. Make sure you grow as a professional and stay updated with changes in your field. Others can perfectly sense it.
  • Frame information — Framing is a powerful technique to help others understand your perspective. Present 2–3 solutions to choose from and highlight selected features to justify your decision. The boundary that you must not exceed is data manipulation and hiding inconvenient information.
  • Evangelize — Communicate your vision and strategy regularly so that others can believe in the mission and trust they are going in the right direction. You can do it on every occasion. This may seem excessive at times, but from my experience, it is absolutely essential that everyone keep it in mind.
  • Ask forgiveness, not permission In 99% of cases asking for permission is unnecessary and may even be harmful. If you take action, many will assume that you apparently had the right to do so. Ask for forgiveness when needed.

Leading without authority

Leading and influencing others is the leader’s most underrated superpower. It doesn’t require authority. And it’s not rocket science.

Anyone can learn it.

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