Exercising Authority

“BREAK HARD RIGHT NOW!” the crew chief of the Marine Search & Rescue helicopter yelled over the radio. Up until that moment, the flight had been relatively uneventful as the crew of five flew along “fat, dumb and happy.” The weather was calm and non-threatening. Having executed the same routine several times a week, there was probably an underlying element of complacency, which added to the collective calm and benign behavior. The crew chief’s words were loud and abrupt and instantly shattered the calm. My response at the controls was an instinctive and immediate hard right turn. The crew chief continued… “Keep it coming sir…keep it coming… Ok, roll out!” Again, instructions with which I complied without hesitation. His final instructions, “Alright sir, descend about 500 feet now… ok, sir, that’s good, you can level off…alright, you’re good. You’ve got it.”

From an informal perspective, exercising your authority effectively as the formal leader is not always about where authority formally resides, but about who has the best situational awareness at any given time, and can provide the best guidance in achieving the overall mission or objective for a given situation. THAT individual is to whom leadership can and should transfer, at least long enough to see the team through the transition of the circumstances. That is the essence of tactical leadership and just one of many ways to effectively exercise your authority as a good leader. In effect, this is what occurred in the story above; the crew chief was the only one aware that another aircraft posed an immediate threat of a mid-air collision. Training, trust, assertiveness, and intuition on part of the entire crew took over and allowed them to safely move the aircraft and crew out of harms way. This concept is transferable to any number of circumstances in sports or business. On a business team, it may become readily apparent to a team member that their understanding or awareness of circumstances with the client or competition allows them to help guide the team to a critical and timely decision that may create opportunity, or avert disaster. In sports, a particular player may be in the groove, may be extremely focused and see what the opponent is trying to impose more quickly or readily than anyone else, and therefore be able to either defend against it effectively or exploit that awareness offensively and create a win for the team.

Some years back I attended a friend’s funeral, and as the service concluded and I was leaving the church, I couldn’t help but notice the sign directly above the exit that said, “You are NOW entering your mission area!” I’m reminded, as we close out this course, that while we may have formally completed the material, informally we are only just now entering our leadership mission areas.

So the ball is in your court, so to speak. You can remember this as merely a good experience where we shared some thoughts and ideas about the concept of leadership, or you can seize it as an opportunity to readdress and optimize who you are as a leader. Who you were as a leader when you started the course, and how you apply what you learned, is ultimately reflected in how you Exercise Your Authority. 

As the course progressed from a fundamental understanding of the concept of leadership, to what it takes to be a leader, to leading within an organization, and finally how these tenets may apply in your environment, both theoretical and practical applications were addressed. While the course is designed for you to experience awareness and recognize your potential throughout, the real results of your leadership can only be realized, and are almost exclusively dependent upon what you do and how you act outside the classroom in your leadership mission area. Exercising authority is really a direct reflection of your fundamental beliefs and philosophy about leadership and leading. It is a reflection of how you do or do not adapt to the environment or circumstances when required. Ultimately, it is a reflection of who you are, or who you have become as a leader.

Good leaders, as they develop over time, will learn to embrace the opportunity to exercise their authority rather than fear it. Whether a corporate CEO, an Aircraft Commander, a Team Lead, a Coach or the Captain of a sports team, confident and effective leaders are not threatened by delegating their authority. Either explicitly or implicitly, good leaders develop an intuition in their people that encourages them to take charge and lead. This not only broadens the effectiveness of the overall team, but builds trust, innovative and timely thinking, intuitive decision-making, and effective and rapid responses from your team. In the final analysis, a good leader exercises authority by maintaining authority when and where appropriate, delegating authority when necessary, and naturally retaining authority at all times.


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