Saturday, April 14, 2007

Responsibility = Authority

"You are in charge." "And here is how you should/should not do it." That too often is a conversation I am a part of or overhear. Groups, committees, professionals are tasked with a responsibility. They are held accountable for the completion of a task, project or just the successful leadership of a team or organization.
The dilemma arises when those to whom they are accountable, limit their authority to act, decide or spend money. I was just part of a conversation at North Park Theological Seminary "Center for Spiritual Direction" where we, as the Excutive Team, were perplexed by what we could and could not decide. There were all sorts of institutional limitations and ambiguities about what we had any authority over. That got my mind racing on this formula: RESPONSIBILITY MUST BE LINKED TO AUTHORITY or else you have a formula for high stress. I'm sure I stole this formula from some consultant or author (for which I beg forgiveness). But the essence is so true and so liberating. When an organization tasks a person or group to accomplish something, they must provide adequate authority to get the job done.
This does not mean unliited authority (to sell the company or fire the board). All authority must operate within accountability structures. The governing entity must delineate waht sorts of authority it grants to the committee or professional and then step away and let them lead. The authority granted will either be well-used and justified or mis-used and face consequences.
At the church I serve, I see this happen all the time. Liam, our interim Director of Student Ministries, received permission to hold a garage sale. It is his first garage sale. In fact, it is going on right now as I write this, over in the gym. It was amazing how many theories there are about how a garage sale SHOULD be run: set prices, individual prices, early sales, no early sales, reduce to get rid of it all, keep some around for other sales, advertise, etc. It was amazing that I discovered I had my opinions about youth ministry garage sales as well (what former youth pastor doesn't?) But it's not my sale...it's Liam's. And I need to butt out and let him make good or poor decisions.
When the former church I served went to a Team Leadership model, one of the first things we did was to draft long lists of limitations; those areas of church life about which we were excluded from making decisions (eg pastors could not handle finances). What that did was to set the church leaders free to focus where they should invest their energies. We were doing the best job I ever experienced about tying authority to responsibility and holding those persons and groups responsible for outcomes, not processes.
All of this discussion comes down to trust. Do we trust those we place in responsibly positions to lead? If I don't trust Liam to run a Student Ministry garage sale, then maybe I should be the Student Ministry Director instead (which I do not want to be). The challenge of governance is to freely exchange ideas and opinions (even contrary ones) in open forums, and then let those in charge make their decisions. Otherwise governing bodies revert to micro-management and not leadership and leaders are discouraged to innovate and lead.


At 9:50 AM , Blogger La Cuoca said...

Very interesting blog. Kiss kiss

At 6:48 PM , Anonymous kent said...

I believe the responsibility without authority leads to burnout came from Edwin Friedman.

At 8:08 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what happens when somone has authority, but no one can hold him/her to be responsible for his/her actions?

At 8:18 PM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

There are always bodies that have authority over us. When, say. pastors exercise despotic authority, it is the congregational leaders who are responsible for not checking his/her abuses. There are always checks and balances. It's just that some people do not want to courageously use their authority.


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